Whether you’re a first-time mom or have just given birth to a third child, the days and weeks that follow having a baby can be as overwhelming and stressful as they are joyful and exciting. Duchess Kate’s recent childbirth experience has brought worldwide attention to everything about new motherhood from the post-baby bump she proudly displayed the day after giving birth to worries from the public that she, like her late mother-in-law Princess Diana and so many other women, could experience baby blues or postpartum depression.
While there has been absolutely no indication that Duchess Kate is at risk for or has experienced any signs of postpartum depression, the flurry of celebrities — Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and Bryce Dallas Howard, just to name a few — who have come forward to share their personal stories about their struggle with the illness is an indication that postpartum depression can and does happen to anyone.
It’s important for new moms and their family and friends to know the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression to ensure they get the help they need promptly. We asked Dr. Jennifer Frey, a physician with Women’s Health Specialists and Midwives of Dayton, to explain the condition, the symptoms and treatment options.
What is the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression?
“The biggest difference between the two is the intensity and duration of symptoms,” Dr. Frey said. “With baby blues, the duration is usually less than two weeks and peaks about day three to four after delivery. Fifty to 70 percent of women experience this adjustment with symptoms of irritability, mood swings, tearfulness, sadness, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Most likely these symptoms are related to adjusting to a new baby in the house and changes in hormone levels as well as lack of sleep.”
With postpartum depression, Dr. Frey says symptoms last longer than two weeks and include those associated with major depression such as changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, tearfulness and irritability, anxiety, lack of happiness, fatigue, impaired attachment to new baby, and preoccupation with baby’s health and well-being. Again, these symptoms can be exacerbated by lack of sleep and support.
“About 10 to 15 percent of women experience this with the rate increasing to 25 percent if they have a history of depression in the past. In rare cases, 0.1% women can experience postpartum psychosis with severe agitation, delusions, hallucinations, disorientation, disorganized thoughts and sleeplessness,” Dr. Frey said. “This typically has a rapid onset within one to three days postpartum and needs immediate attention and treatment.”
According to Dr. Frey, the risk of developing postpartum depression increases if a woman has a history of depression or mood disorders such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. Also, additional stressors such as financial difficulties or a sick or premature infant and poor support system also increase the risk for postpartum depression. “Women with a history of depression or prior postpartum depression should make a plan with her OB doctor prior to delivery,” Dr. Frey said. “In some cases, we start medication prior to delivery so that it can be in her systems and decrease the intensity of postpartum depressive symptoms.
Getting help, treatment options
The first step is always recognizing the symptoms. If the mood or tearfulness or actions seem more than just a simple adjustment period to motherhood with a new baby then the woman or her support members should contact the woman’s doctor. “As Ob/Gyn’s, we treat and care for postpartum depression regularly,” Dr. Frey said. “Most patients can be treated with a combination of therapy and/or medication, and there are anti-depressant medications that are safe with breast feeding. If there is acute concern for the safety of the woman or her child, then the woman should be taken to the emergency room or 911 called.”
For more information on postpartum depression, visit the American Psychological Association website at: www.apa.org.
Tuesday in Life & Health, we will connect you with the local experts and local resources to help you improve your health and physical and mental well-being.
Symptoms of baby blues vs. postpartum depression
Baby blues (which typically last only a few days to a week or two): mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, crying, decreased concentration and trouble sleeping.
Postpartum depression: Symptoms of postpartum depression often appear to be baby blues at first but last beyond two weeks and may include: loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, intense irritability and anger, loss of interest in sex, loss of interest in activities, overwhelming fatigue, lack of joy in life, feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy, severe mood swings, inability to bond with baby, withdrawal from family and friends, thoughts of harming self or baby.