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What about Postpartum Depression?

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Regardless of how much you have looked forward to the birth of your baby or how happy you are about it, having a baby is extremely stressful. A range of emotional reactions are expected and normal, including sadness, “baby blues,” or some depression. However, if you find yourself with feelings of depression that don’t go away within a few weeks, you could have a condition called postpartum depression. This is a serious condition that requires that you see your doctor as soon as possible to discuss treatment and support options so that you are healthy and able to take optimal care of your new baby as well as yourself.

The baby blues are common and mild, and may include symptoms such as sadness, moodiness, irritability, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms appear within a few days of giving birth and improve within a couple of weeks. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is more serious and the symptoms are more severe and last longer.

Symptoms such as a lack of interest in your baby, worrying that you might hurt your baby, lack of interest in personal hygiene, lack of motivation or energy, feeling worthless or guilty, or thoughts of death or suicide are examples of the types of symptoms that should alert you to the fact that you may be dealing with something beyond normal baby blues.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

It is not well understood why postpartum depression affects some new mothers and not others. However, there are a number of causes and risk factors that may contribute. Changes in hormone levels after childbirth, physical pain, insecurity about your changed body, exhaustion, and the stress of taking care of a new baby can all play a role in the development of postpartum depression.

In addition, it is known that some women are more likely to get postpartum depression, such as those who have a history of depression, a history of severe PMS symptoms, medical complications with the pregnancy or delivery, and a lack of support from friends and family. In fact, this study shows the important role that peer support plays in preventing and lessening postpartum depression.

How to Treat Postpartum Depression

To start feeling better, it is very important to take care of yourself. Making sure you get enough sleep, which may sound impossible when you have a new baby, but being exhausted will worsen your depression. I was told from a wise mother of several children, “When your baby sleeps, you sleep.”  No vacuuming, washing clothes or paying bills. Enlist help if at all possible so that you can get enough rest. And when awake, do not spend every waking minute caring for your new baby, your other kids, or your house – take breaks from mommy duty to pamper yourself.  That may be easier said than done when you have a maternal sense of danger if your baby is not within your sight every minute.  Even taking a shower may be difficult for some new mothers.  Single mothers have the most difficult time of balancing their lifestyle with the arrival of a newborn.  Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, ask that friend if she (or he) can come over to spell you from the rigors of motherhood for a few hours.  And, when she’s there, take a long, hot bath and do whatever simple things you enjoy to recharge and relax.   It DOES “take a village” to raise a good kid without exhausting yourself trying to do it alone.

You can also get closer to feeling like yourself by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of mood-enhancing sunshine, and easing back into a regular exercise routine. A 30-minute walk each day is a good way to start, and your baby will probably love it, too.

Finally, make sure and take advantage of the help and support others offer – or be proactive about asking for it. Stay in touch with your friends; make plans with them and do not let yourself become isolated. Talking about your feelings can help, too.

As stated in my blog back in 2010, “Everyone feels sad some of the time. It’s normal to have a bad day. But if your bad day stretches into weeks, for your own sake and the sake of your baby, you need to get help. If you don’t have a therapist, ask your ob-gyn for a referral if you experience feelings of hopelessness, sadness or despair. Don’t suffer needlessly. Help is available.”

Talk therapy, hormone therapy, and medications such as antidepressants can all be highly effective in relieving postpartum depression.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Talking About Depression With Your Ob-Gyn

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Depression is one of the most serious and prevalent disorders affecting women in the present day. It is also one of the most underreported disorders affecting women, and the number of those affected by it is increasing every year. Depression affects women of all age ranges and social statuses, and it affects those in poor health as well as those who are seemingly in perfect condition. With depression being so common, and affecting so many, it would seem that Ob-Gyn’s regularly diagnosis this problem in women. However, studies are suggesting that doctors miss a diagnosis of depression in as much as sixty percent of their patients.

Whether the women had a preexisting diagnosis of depression, reported suffering from psychological distress, or simply felt as if they might be depressed, their depression consistently went undiagnosed throughout visits with their Ob-Gyn. The most common signs recognized by doctors included physical manifestations of the disorder, such as weight gains and losses as well as reported insomnia.

Those that did receive a diagnosis were primarily women who were under twelve months postpartum, those under thirty-five years of age, and women who were seeing their Ob-Gyn either to discuss their depression symptoms or as part of a regular checkup. The most common visits in which the depression went unnoticed were visits in which the woman had scheduled an appointment to discuss an existing complaint.

This raises the all-important question—why do so many doctors miss depression diagnoses? There are likely a number of factors, ranging from the feeling of suffers that they are not in need of help to a reluctance to discuss any issues that are not “medical” with a medical practitioner. However, it is important for women to realize that depression is a medical issue, and it is one that can severely impact them throughout their lives—and it can even impact their health directly. Recognize that your mental state is just as important to report as your physical state and, most importantly, persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, and lack of interest in one’s life are not feelings that must simply be “dealt with”.  Your doctor can help.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Studies Provide Shocking Postpartum Depression Statistics

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Becoming a new mother should be the happiest time in the lives of most women—at least, that is what society tells us. But every year, thousands of women across the country who have recently given birth, or who are about to give birth, report experiencing depression and postpartum depression. This issue only came to light in the past few decades, as an increasing number of women overcome the “shame” associated with mental illness to talk about and raise awareness of their experiences. Increased awareness of postpartum depression means that fewer women feel the need to hide their problems, and more women will seek help earlier in the onset of postpartum depression when it can be more easily treatable.

However, there are still a lot of problems when it comes to awareness. One of those issues is the fact that the segment of the population that is most likely to be diagnosed with it is the segment least likely to be knowledgeable about the subject. In this study, which identified women positively diagnosed with postpartum depression as well as the demographics of affected women, it was revealed that women positive with a diagnosis were more likely to be younger, African American, and to be in a lower income bracket.

In addition, most of the women who were found to have postpartum depression were also found to have a comorbid generalized anxiety disorder. That means that many instances of depression may also dismissed as common anxiety, or the typical concerns of a new mother. It is important to correctly identify depression, as it can have an immense effect on both mother and baby in the period after birth. In fact, many women will suffer depression for years afterward. In this study alone, 14 percent of the women in the study were positively diagnosed.

Women should be informed about postpartum depression and its effects, and they should know that it is a common problem after pregnancy. Of course, postpartum depression is just one of the many issues that a woman might face regarding pregnancy and childbirth—my mission in life is to inform women of all ages and races of what is going on with their bodies, and in my book, “Inside Information for Women”, I discuss pregnancy and childbirth in detail, in the hopes that more women will go through the process with the knowledge that they need to remain safe, healthy, and happy throughout their pregnancy and well afterwards.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

How Exercise Can Cure the Postpartum Blues

Monday, April 1st, 2013

There’s no way around it. Exercise is an effective solution for many of life’s common problems. Many women are constantly trying to find shortcut answers to their ailments, but there is really no alternative for a good old-fashioned workout. Obesity isn’t the only thing that exercise can reverse. Many experts agree that physical activity is an excellent solution for people who are struggling with depression. Since exercise releases endorphins into the brain, it can raise the spirits against all odds. Therefore, it’s no surprise that studies show exercise is a suitable cure for postpartum depression.

Don’t be ashamed if you’re feeling depressed after you give birth. It’s a common problem, and the reasons are clinical. Many of my patients worry that they are already being insufficient parents by feeling unhappy in their first few weeks of motherhood. Let your doctor know right away if you’re having these feelings, especially if they are severe. Once you’re on a treatment plan and are getting help for the problem, you should begin exercising regularly.

Postpartum depression is sometimes simply a misconception of the most common postpartum symptoms. Fatigue, trouble sleeping, a lack of concentration, and irritability are all likely after you’ve given birth. Since these are common signs of depression, you might assume it’s such. Since exercise will give you more energy, help you sleep better, and relieve some negative feelings, it is an easy cure. Additionally, many new moms say that their postpartum depression is partly a result of the isolation they feel when they are at home all day with the baby. Especially after a busy, working lifestyle, the schedule of a stay at home mom can be saddening. Exercise will not only offer a burst of endorphins, but it will also give you an opportunity to spend time with other women in your area at the gym or on the local track.

Postpartum depression can hit even the most excitable new moms, so don’t be surprised if you’re feeling the new baby blues in the weeks following your labor. While you should certainly follow whatever treatment plan your doctor recommends, you should also try getting into an exercise routine. It will improve your mood more than you might think, and the alone time itself will help you clear your head and find your happy place once again.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Don’t Let Postpartum Depression Get the Best of You (And Your Baby)

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

You’ve been waiting nine long months, and you’ve finally had the baby you’ve always wanted. While you expect to be flooded with joy, you might find that you are stricken with fear, sadness, and even depression. If you have feelings of utter despair after delivery, you’re likely suffering from postpartum depression. Unfortunately, postpartum depression is difficult to predict and control, but it is not uncommon. There is absolutely no reason to be ashamed if you feel depressed, and you should bring it up to your doctor instead of hiding it. Research shows that trying to hide it makes the problem much worse and leaving it untreated could actually affect your baby’s behavioral development.

It’s obvious how postpartum depression will affect you. You might become withdrawn from your friends, uninterested in otherwise exciting activities, and you could resort to stress activities such as overeating. However, studies show that postpartum depression has a profoundly negative effect on babies, as well. When babies are born to mothers affected by this type of depression, they will have more cognitive development deficits and behavioral problems when they turn one than babies who were born to unaffected mothers. These developmental problems are measured by social behavior, fear, and stress reactivity, which are all indicators of life problems later down the line.

You might feel ashamed to admit that you have postpartum depression because you’ll feel like it makes you look like an inadequate mother. Doctors know that this is not the case, and that postpartum depression is actually a result of hormonal imbalances brought on by the pregnancy itself. Don’t be afraid to bring it up as soon as you start to feel sad. Early detection will lead to early treatment, which will let you get back to your new job as a mom sooner. By taking care of it early, you’ll help your baby develop more normally because you will not be hindered by the feelings of depression. No one will doubt your abilities as a mother when you admit that you’re feeling depressed. Instead, they will respect your courage and honesty and help you get to a mental state where you can raise your child as you know you should.

 – Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.