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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.

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."

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