Every year in the United States 6.4 million babies are born and put into the arms of proud and excited new mothers. These women have experienced nine or ten long months of pregnancy with all its physical and emotional challenges and have finally received the reward for all their suffering. Soon they are taking home their little bundle and daydream about their child growing up, going to school, and attending prom.
However, for 950,000 women per year, a sinister condition can creep in and steal their joy. Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can cause problems for a new mother after childbirth. As the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone drop, the mother’s body struggles to adjust, and these changes affect her brain and can trigger some nasty symptoms.
New mothers who develop postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety and a lack of interest in their child. There are many other signs that someone may be living in the abyss of this type of depression, these include:
• Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness or of being overwhelmed
• Crying often, and for no apparent reason
• Worrying excessively
• Moodiness, irritability, restlessness
• Trouble concentrating and making decisions
• Anger or rage
• Losing interest in things that once were found enjoyable
• Physical aches and pains, headaches, stomach problems
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Difficulty in bonding or attaching to her new baby
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How Do I Tell? Is it the Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?
The only person who can definitively tell if you have the baby blues or postpartum depression is a health care provider. However, the baby blues are a natural consequence of delivering a new baby. Babies require constant care and can cause the new mother to become fatigued and haggard. It’s totally normal for a new mother to experience being worried and tired, and this condition affects up to 80% of new moms. The baby blues will go away on its own within a few days or weeks.
Postpartum depression is different. The feelings of sadness and anxiety are so bad that they interfere with the new mom’s ability to give adequate care to herself or her child. Where the baby blues do not require professional treatment, postpartum depression must be handled with medications or other treatment options we will discuss later. Postpartum depression usually starts shortly after childbirth from one week to a month after birth but may begin any time after delivery.
Who Experiences Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is an equal opportunity disorder. It can affect any woman regardless of age, race, ethnicity or economic status. However, some women are at a higher risk of experiencing the disorder, especially if they have one or more of the following risk factors:
• Previous history of depression or bipolar disorder
• Postpartum depression after a previous birth
• A family member who lives with a mental health diagnosis and/or depression
• Have experienced a stressful life experience during the pregnancy such as a death in the family or the loss of a job
• Have experienced complications during childbirth
• Delivering a baby with health problems
• Mixed feelings about the pregnancy
• Lack of support from her spouse, partner, family or friends
• Prior alcohol or other substance abuse
If you have been reading this piece and found that the descriptions given thus far describes yourself or someone you know, don’t hesitate, get help right now.
How is Postpartum Depression Treated?
Postpartum depression, like most mental health issues, can be successfully treated. The new mother’s health care provider is the first line of defense, so seeing your doctor or gynecologist is imperative. They then will decide which course to take which may include sending you to a counselor or a psychiatrist to prescribe you medication, or both.
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Seeing a counselor involves speaking one-on-one with a mental health provider. The best type of therapies that have been found to be the most effective is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the new mother to understand and recognize the changes that have happened to her body and mind. This type of therapy focuses on identifying helpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to replace the anxiety and negativity they had been experiencing. Cognitive behavioral therapy for postpartum depression is short-term, only lasting from 12-16 sessions.
Interpersonal therapy helps the new mom to understand and work better with problematic relationships with partners, friends, and family. It also usually lasts for 12-16 weeks.
Antidepressant medications are an effective method to treat postpartum depression and are often given to enhance talk therapy. These drugs act on the chemistry of the brain that is involved in regulating mood. However, the new mom must tell their prescriber if they are going to breastfeed. Most antidepressants are considered safe to use while breastfeeding, but for the safety of the baby, the new mom needs to ask.
The most common type of antidepressant medication used involves selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs affect the levels of serotonin in the brain and are considered the first choice because they are relatively safe. Some of the most commonly prescribed of these drugs include; Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, and Celexa.
Doctors have found that around two-thirds of the new mothers who are treated with antidepressants improve. However, these drugs may take anywhere from one to six weeks to be effective, so it is important not to stop taking them but to hang on until they do.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare form of postpartum depression that occurs after around 1%-2% of births in the United States. The onset is usually quite sudden and occurs within the first two weeks after the baby is born.
Therefore, it is essential to see your doctor should you find yourself living in the darkness of postpartum depression. The symptoms of postpartum psychosis are very severe and include delusions (strange beliefs), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), hyperactivity, decreased the need for or the inability to sleep, and paranoia (being unnaturally suspicious).
Research states that approximately 5% of women affected by postpartum psychosis commit suicide and 4% commit infanticide due to the psychosis causing a break with reality. In her psychotic state, the new mother believes her delusions and these odd beliefs make sense to her. These unrealistic thoughts and behaviors can lead to the death of the mother, her baby or both and can also include the deaths of other children under her care.
It is imperative that a new mother who exhibits any of the above symptoms receives treatment immediately. Call your physician or take her to the emergency room. Lives can depend upon your fast action.
It is critical to remember postpartum psychosis is a treatable illness, and its development is nobody’s fault.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
The Consequences of Untreated Postpartum Depression
If left untreated, postpartum depression can linger for months or years. The behaviors that the mother exhibits can interfere with her ability to connect with her new child and can cause the baby to develop problems sleeping, eating and behavior issues.
The Costs of the Treatment for Postpartum Depression and Psychosis
Psychotherapy allows the mother to talk through her feelings that have come up since she gave birth to her new child. Costs for this service depends heavily upon which type of therapist you see. The cost of seeing a master’s Level therapist such as you may find in a local mental health facility will run around $75-$100 for a one-hour session. If instead, you choose to see a psychologist, the cost jumps to an average of $200 for a one-hour session.
Most of the time, general practitioners will not prescribe antidepressant medications and will send their patients to see a psychiatrist for treatment. The cost of seeing a psychiatrist for a thirty-minute prescribing session can run from $150-$285 for a thirty-minute session.
The antidepressant medications themselves can be costly and depend upon the drug you are prescribed. The average cost for a thirty-day supply of an antidepressant in the United States comes to $85-$200 a month.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
If postpartum depression or psychosis is severe and does not get better with other treatments, as a last resort electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be administered. ECT is a procedure that is done under general anesthesia (while in a drug-induced deep-sleep). A small electrical current is passed through the brain of the new mother that intentionally causes a brief seizure. ECT changes the brain chemistry and can quickly reverse the symptoms of both postpartum depression and psychosis.
Unfortunately, the cost of having a series of eight ECT treatments (the most common number administered), can run from between $2,400 to $6,400. Electroconvulsive therapy can also have some concerning side-effects such as confusion and memory loss. While the confusion passes within a few hours, the memory loss can be permanent and include memories formed in the weeks, months or rarely, years before treatment.
Photo by Oleg Sergeichik on Unsplash
The Good News
The good news is that with the proper medical help, the treatments used to treat postpartum depression work very well allowing the new mom can soon move forward with her life. Happily, the procedures for both postpartum depression and psychosis are covered by most insurance policies.
Postpartum depression does not need to cost a new mother the time they have with their precious bundle of joy. With lots of support from her partner, family, friends and medical provider she can recover quickly and enjoy her growing family.
Below are some helpful numbers and sites to help you if you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression or psychosis.
To Find Postpartum Help Hotline Numbers by Your State in the U.S.
Post-Partum Support International
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
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