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Bryce Dallas Howard on Acting, Mothering, and Staying Healthy

With two highly anticipated movies and baby No. 2 on the way, the young actress claims her place in the A-list spotlight.

Howard's Postpartum Depression

Thankfully Howard has never faced such a diagnosis, although she has "lost two grandparents to cancer, and I've definitely had many people in my life who've dealt with it, including a close friend who's fighting a rare form of it now."

Instead, her greatest personal health challenge was her crippling bout with postpartum depression after her son was born in 2007. It lasted 18 long, distressing months.

"I was 25 years old, and I had this idea of the kind of mother I wanted to be," Howard tells WebMD the Magazine. "I held onto that vision and completely stopped checking in with myself. My feelings were the complete opposite of what I wanted or expected to feel, and that was so overwhelming. Circumstances around the birth were challenging. ... My husband [actor Seth Gabel] had to return to work just five days after Theo was born. I felt awful. But I didn't know to say: 'I have postpartum depression.' I didn't recognize I was in it. I just felt like I was a bad person or that I wasn't dealing well with everything."

Causes of Postpartum Depression

"Postpartum depression is defined as a major depression that can develop after giving birth," says Dorothy Sit, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Women's Behavioral HealthCare of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh. "Generally it's identified within 12 weeks of delivery and is accompanied by two or more consecutive weeks of low mood, loss of interest in daily activities, change in appetite and sleep patterns, weight loss or gain, a feeling of worthlessness, plus guilt over not being a 'good mom,' and sometimes hopelessness and suicidal thoughts."

"I was incredibly sleep-deprived for months," Howard continues. "My milk wasn't coming in, and Theo was jaundiced, and I was trying to feed constantly and not use formula ... when he slept I pumped. It felt like the most insane kind of torture. ... Now that I'm pregnant again, I'm going to do my best to anticipate those kinds of needs -- to reach out to friends and family and allow myself to fully recover [from labor]."

Research shows a connection between extended sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, says Sit. She also lists "other environmental factors, such as poor social support and financial stressors" -- conditions Howard did not face -- as possible catalysts. Postpartum depression "may also be related to hormonal shifts, when a woman loses a lot of estrogen after giving birth. In addition, having past episodes of depression before the pregnancy predicts an increased risk for experiencing it after."

Howard says she found her sense of alienation from her son most distressing. "We're doing great now," she says of Theo, whom she reportedly called "it" during her darkest days. "It's become the most miraculously balanced relationship in my life -- the total opposite of how it was in the beginning," she adds. "And I'm so grateful for that."

While she declines to elaborate on what specific combination of medications and/or therapy worked for her, she says, "It's so important to find the right doctor and have the right relationship with that person. ... I do feel like [my postpartum depression] was a chemical imbalance. Because when I did seek help, [my symptoms] just stopped. It was like night and day."

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