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Postpartum Depression: More Common Than You Know

New mothers with postpartum depression can feel very alone. But at least 20% of new mothers experience it. Here's how to cope.

Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression continued...

But the baby blues come and go quickly. "Generally, these symptoms start within several days of delivery and usually go away within a couple of weeks," says Silverman. At six weeks after delivery, Merritt was well past the baby blues stage.

True postpartum depression, on the other hand, can begin any time in the first year after a baby is born. "The diagnostic criteria for postpartum depression say it's a depression that starts within the first four weeks after delivery, but it can start later than that -- or even before delivery," says Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a former president of Postpartum Support International and author of Postpartum Depression for Dummies and Pregnant on Prozac: The Essential Guide to Making the Best Decision for You and Your Baby.

That's why it's so important during the first few months to pay attention to any sense that things just aren't right. If you've had a psychiatric disorder in the past or a perinatal mood disorder with a previous child, keep an eye out for symptoms."Trust your instincts," says Karen Kleiman, MSW, LSW, executive director of the Postpartum Stress Center and author of several books on the disorder. "If you think something isn't right, it probably isn't. That doesn't mean something terrible is going on, but you should get help."

Start by calling your obstetrician -- more doctors are aware of postpartum depression issues now and can refer you for treatment. But if your doctor dismisses your concerns, as Merritt's did, contact a local or national support group.

Postpartum Depression vs. Postpartum Psychosis

What if you think you're going to hurt your baby? Christina Garman, 33, of Euclid, Ohio, says she still can't shake a memory from when her daughter Molly was a baby. She was sitting on her bed breastfeeding, but even as she nursed, Molly was still crying. A frustrated, exhausted Garman, who had struggled with post-delivery abdominal pain and difficulty nursing, had reached her limit.

"All I could see myself doing was throwing her across the room," she recalls, the horror of the moment still in her voice. "Or shake her. I would never do that, but for some reason those thoughts kept coming into my head. I thought, 'Who are you, and what have you done with your brain?'"

Garman's story might remind you of Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub. But Yates had postpartum psychosis, a very different and more rare condition that should not be confused with postpartum depression. It is not an extreme form of postpartum depression but a separate condition in which a new mother has a genuine psychotic breakdown and could harm her children. Garman was eventually diagnosed with postpartum depression obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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