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.
Treating Postpartum Depression
True postpartum psychosis requires intensive treatment and often hospitalization. But most women with postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders can find relief relatively quickly with treatments that usually include some combination of medication and counseling. In therapy, women learn specific techniques to quell persistent anxiety and rid themselves of intrusive thoughts about harm coming to their baby.
Women are also encouraged to find a way to take care of themselves, not just the baby. "You're a pitcher of water, and if you're always giving, you're going to be empty. How do you fill back up?" Gunyon Meyer asks. "Make sure you'll have time to go to the gym or even just the grocery store alone."
Antidepressants are another element of treatment for some women. Many worry about taking antidepressants, especially if they are nursing, because medication does get into breast milk. But most experts say those fears are generally exaggerated. "Though nothing is ever 100% risk-free, we do have studies that show no long-term adverse effects from taking antidepressants while breastfeeding," Gunyon Meyer says. On the other hand, she points out, numerous studies show how being severely depressed or anxious while pregnant or breastfeeding can have a negative effect on the baby.
Garman and Merritt, much like most of the women who come to the support group Gunyon Meyer runs, took medication in addition to counseling. Garman benefited from a program developed by her health insurance company, Medical Mutual. When a routine follow-up call the company makes to check on moms revealed signs of postpartum depression, the insurer alerted Garman's doctor, who called to intervene. She spent three months on a low dose of an antidepressant and had weekly calls with a social worker provided by her insurance company.
Healing From Postpartum Depression
It took Merritt much longer to find help. It was only after Graham, then 2½, broke his leg falling out of his crib that both Merritt and her husband felt so guilty they pursued counseling. That's where they learned that Merritt's strange detachment from Graham was due to postpartum depression and anxiety. She started taking antidepressants and continued with counseling, and within several months her anxiety began to wane. "They'd give me goals: 'You're going to go do this with your son by yourself this week,'" she recalls.