Bond through life passages — 03 December 2011
Postpartum depression is physiological and treatable

Suffering from any form of depression is difficult enough, having a postpartum depression, though common and hormonally based, is profoundly upsetting to young mothers, babies and husbands. Understanding the nature of this depression may alleviate additional stress for families and lead to faster recovery.

Most new mothers have the “baby blues” for a few weeks after giving birth. They feel anxious, irritable or weepy from birth and begin to feel better after about two weeks. These emotional reactions are attributable to a sudden drop in levels of estrogen and progesterone that occur within 48 hours after delivering a baby.

According to Harvard Mental Health Letter, “In about 10% to 15% of mothers, these “baby blues” turn to a postpartum depression, whose symptoms include: feeling sad, worthless, guilty and disinterested in daily activities including her baby, having crying spells, sleeping and eating problems, excessive fatigue and even suicidal thoughts.”

Postpartum depression must be differentiated from a the state of “Postpartum Psychosis, in which the mother may have delusions about the baby or hears voices instructing her to harm herself or the baby. The latter occurs only to “one to two mothers of every 1000 mothers,” but requires urgent medical treatment.

It is understandable that due to hormonal changes postpartum depression is common for new mothers. Surprisingly, a recent analysis reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that this depression also occurs “for 10% of fathers within the first year after the birth of a child.”

Postpartum depression should be treated, not only for the benefit of the sufferer, but also for the healthy development of the baby. The Harvard Letter states: “In some cases, offspring of parents with untreated depression suffer delays in cognitive development, take longer to mature emotionally, or develop depression themselves.”

Some mothers have been reluctant to seek medical attention for their postpartum depression assuming that this state will naturally take its course. Others report feeling shame at being sad when they are expected to be delighted with their new baby. Anticipated social disapproval hinders yet other mothers from reporting their symptoms and receiving corrective treatment.

Once sought, effective treatments for postpartum depression are available. For mild to moderate depression, cognitive behavioral therapy has been very effective, as well as psychodynamic, insight oriented and relationship therapy for couples whose struggles turn to unresolved conflicts.

For moderate to severe postpartum depression a variety of antidepressant medications are available, including some that are appropriate for nursing mothers.

If you are an unhappy new mother:

  • Accept that your emotional reactions are expected and likely to start improving within two weeks.
  • Abstain from shame or disapproval fears if your emotional condition persists since it is a common and treatable physiological reaction.
  • Share your feelings and thoughts with your spouse, a friend and your obstetrician.
  • Follow the recommended medical/ psychological treatment to restore your wellbeing and afford your child the healthiest environment for developing and thriving.


September 18, 2011

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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