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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.

Creating a Postpartum Wellness Plan continued...

Exercise: What you can do physically might depend on your recovery after giving birth. Even a walk around the block with baby in a stroller or sling gets you moving in the fresh air. It might not seem like a workout, but it's a start. Hit the mall for a stroll if weather doesn't cooperate.

Food and water: A plan for nutrition and hydration might sound obvious, but many new moms are so busy caring for the baby that they don't eat right. Not getting enough water and protein, especially if you're breastfeeding, can leave you depleted and vulnerable. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day (if you weigh 150 pounds, that's about nine 8-ounce glasses), and nibble on high-protein snacks such as nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and yogurt throughout the day.

Realistic expectations: Make a list of motherhood myths you won't buy into, such as "I'm not a good mom if I can't breastfeed," "I should be madly in love with my baby from the second I see him," and "I should lose all the pregnancy weight and look like Heidi Klum before my baby is six months old."

Help for Depressed Moms: The MOTHERS Act

When Melanie Blocker Stokes gave birth to her daughter, Sommer Skyy, in 2001, she seemed to have it all: a successful career, a devoted husband, and a beautiful, healthy baby. But by the time Sommer was a month old, Stokes was crippled by depression so severe that she stopped eating and drinking. Plagued by paranoid thoughts, she was put on a series of antipsychotic drugs, but eventually jumped to her death from the 12th floor of a Chicago hotel.

Stokes had postpartum psychosis. In her name, the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS (Mom's Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression) Act was introduced in Congress in January 2009. The legislation is aimed at improving research, screening, and treatment for perinatal mood disorders.

Sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the bill funds grants that help health care providers recognize, identify, and treat perinatal mood disorders. It also encourages the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a national public awareness campaign around perinatal mood disorders and orders the department to study the benefits of screening for postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.

The MOTHERS Act, supported by a broad coalition of groups ranging from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Nurse-Midwives to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA, passed the House of Representatives by a nearly unanimous vote in March. The legislation is awaiting action in the Senate, where it has broad support but has been stalled by the objections of one senator. You can urge your senator to support the MOTHERS Act, S. 324, by calling 202-224-3121.

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Reviewed on August 21, 2009

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