Roughly forty percent of pregnant women report being treated for depression during pregnancy or just prior to pregnancy. Postpartum depression is defined as depression that occurs anytime during the first year after childbirth. It occurs in approximately ten to fifteen percent of women in the general population.
While ten to fifteen percent may sound infrequent, the number is much higher for women with certain risk factors.
- Inadequate social support
- Past or current diagnosis of depression
- Family history of mood disorder or depression
- Marital problems
- Domestic violence
- Lack of/inadequate childcare
- Other stressful life events such as a death in the family
Among women with these risk factors, the recurrence of postpartum depression can be as high as ninety percent.
It is important to differentiate between postpartum blues and postpartum depression. Postpartum blues generally occur in the first two weeks following childbirth and usually resolve spontaneously. Symptoms of the blues can include tearfulness, anxiety, irritability and fluctuating moods. If these symptoms don’t resolve spontaneously, there may be an underlying issue of postpartum depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression typically last much longer and are much more severe. These symptoms may interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself and her newborn. They may include:
- Sad mood
- Lack of pleasure from previously enjoyable activities
- Appetite disturbance
- Weight loss
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or anxiety
- Inability to make decisions or concentrate
- Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
Because many of these symptoms are often associated with the normal stressors of life with a newborn, they may be discounted by the woman and /or her loved ones.
Self-care is an important component in the treatment of postpartum depression. Self-care measures include getting adequate rest, asking for help in caring for the infant, making an effort to get out of the house as often as possible, not expecting too much from yourself, and talking to other mothers. Medical treatment for postpartum depression may be indicated and it may include individual or group therapy, support groups, and antidepressant medications.
Fortunately, there are many options for treatment and support here in the greater Brattleboro area. Women may seek psychiatric and mental health services at The Brattleboro Retreat, Otter Creek Associates, and Health Care & Rehabilitation Services (HCRS). There are also support groups for new mothers in Brattleboro. Dawn Kersula, RN, IBCLC a lactation consultant at the BMH Birthing Center (802-257-0341 or 802-257-8226), organizes the New Moms Network, which meets every Wednesday. Brattleboro Youth Services (802-257-0361) offers a support group for young moms in both Brattleboro and Bellows Falls. It Takes a Village is a local group of trained volunteers that provide support to new mothers. This support may include breastfeeding support, light housekeeping, and childcare for older siblings. It Takes a Village can be reached by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (802-257-0663). Another option, Early Education Services (802-254-3742) offers multiple services such as Welcome Baby Visits, a support group for fathers called Dedicated Dads, Family Support Specialists, and various playgroups throughout Windham County. Children’s Integrated Services (802-258-2874) at The Winston Prouty Center is another valuable community resource. The Prouty Center provides a variety of services to pregnant and postpartum women, children up to age 6, and their families.
If you or someone you care about is a recent mom and you are worried about postpartum depression. There is help. Check with your healthcare provider or seek out one of the resources listed above. You do not need to suffer.
Heather Ferreira, CNM is certified nurse midwife with Four Seasons Midwifery; Brattleboro OB/GYN, a Department of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at 802-251-9965.