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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

When Merritt talked to her doctor at her six-week follow-up visit, she told him that she was crying a lot and that things didn't feel right. "He said 'Oh, that's just the baby blues. It's your hormones; it'll go away.'"

Her doctor was wrong. The baby blues and perinatal mood disorders are two very different things. Some 80% of women do have the baby blues after delivery, and it's true some symptoms are the same as for postpartum depression, such as mood swings, sleep disturbances, and loss of appetite. Sometimes the baby blues just involve an excess of emotion -- crying often, for no reason.

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.

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