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.
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.
For Garman, in retrospect, there were warning signs that she might be at
higher risk for postpartum depression. "I had dealt with anxiety on and off
when I was younger, and took medication for it," she says. "I'd even seen one
of my close friends go through postpartum depression. But in myself, I just
couldn't see it." Even during treatment, Garman struggled with feelings of
guilt. "I kept asking my social worker, 'Why do I feel like this?' And she'd
say, 'Christina, it's not you.' I really had to learn to forgive myself for
feeling that way."
Merritt says her son was about 3 before she really felt confident caring for
him. She says the transition to parenthood is so rough that almost every new
mom could benefit from therapy. "Becoming a parent is a life-changing
experience," she says. "It changes your marriage, your career, everything.
People don't get it. Even though I was fortunate and had a lot of people
helping me, no one really understood what was going on."
"There's nothing that's not stressful about bringing a new baby into your
home," Silverman says. "For many women, it helps just to know they're not
alone. Remember those pictures of Brooke Shields when her first daughter was
born? She looked like the glowing mother, but now we know, because she shared
her story, that she was miserable. So if you're miserable, too, it doesn't mean
you're defective. You're not crazy. It's OK that you feel crappy, and it's OK
that you don't feel this instant bond. But it can get better, and it will -- if
you get help."
Creating a Postpartum Wellness Plan
Even if you're not at risk for postpartum depression, it's a good idea to
create -- in advance -- a comprehensive wellness plan to follow after the baby
is born. "This can actually help prevent postpartum depression," says expert
Shoshana Bennett, PhD. Key elements of the plan include:
Sleep: Sleep deprivation can induce or worsen postpartum depression.
Even if you'll be breastfeeding, designate someone else to share nighttime
duties. Consider pumping so that someone else can feed the baby on occasion,
and you can get a few full sleep cycles.
Support: Who's going to help out? How will you take a break? When
will you get out of the house? Line up friends and family or consider hiring a
doula, a professional who helps guide women through delivery and bringing baby
home. Research shows that women who have labor and postpartum doulas reduce
their risk of developing postpartum depression. But be sure that people who
sign up to help know what you need. "Some people who think they are 'helping'
aren't," Bennett says. If your mother's idea of helping is holding the baby
while you make lunch -- and that's not the kind of help you need -- be prepared
to explain what you really want. "Don't worry too much about hurting people's
feelings. It's more important to take care of yourself and your baby."