Postpartum Depression Myths Debunked

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depressed womanA few weeks ago, I wrote an article about postpartum depression and some of the serious consequences it can have in its most extreme form. A number of women were concerned there wasn't a bigger differentiation made between the variations of the disease, which can range from baby blues to postpartum psychosis.

Some feel that including extreme examples of women killing their babies in an article about postpartum depression in general makes women fearful of seeking help for more mild forms of depression and puts a stigma of sorts on anyone who suffers.

In light of those concerns -- many of which came from their own personal experiences -- I contacted some experts in the field to take a deeper look at the often painful topic that affects women.

Myths

According to Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, there are countless myths and misunderstandings about the disease, including the notion that postpartum depression and baby blues are the same thing

"They aren't," Stone said. "The baby blues is a normal hormonal adjustment period that the majority of mothers go through after birth. It lasts for approximately two weeks after the birth and resolves on its own. The baby blues is not a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder nor does it require any treatment. Postpartum depression is and does."

Amber Koter-Puline, author of the blog Beyond Postpartum and moderator for the Postpartum Support group on CafeMom, said another misunderstanding is that the disease is somehow the fault of the woman suffering or is something that can be overcome by "pulling up her bootstraps and toughing it out."

"Postpartum depression is a medical condition," Koter-Puline said. "It is a treatable disorder that should be addressed in the same way that any other health issue would be. No one feels guilty about being anemic, having an overactive thyroid, or diabetes, and PPD should be considered the same way. Treatment options vary greatly and there are people, both medical professionals and peer support providers, who can and will help you to recover as quickly as possible for the benefit of you and your entire family."

Variations

Dr. Shoshana Bennett, PhD, a clinical psychologist, said there are varying degrees of postpartum depression -- from mild to severe and anywhere in between -- as well as five other postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Here are the warning signs she gives for each.

PPD: Difficulty sleeping at night, taking the baby's behavior personally, feeling inadequate or like a failure, big change in appetite and weight (in either direction).

Psychosis: Hallucinating, making strange or incoherent statements, insomnia, thinking that she needs to kill the baby in order to keep it safe.

Panic: Panic attacks, feeling like you're crawling out of your skin, extreme anxiety, hot or cold flashes, numbness or tingling.

OCD: Checking, counting, cleaning compulsively, scary thoughts about harm coming to the baby (sometimes worry about harming the baby herself).

Bipolar: Extreme mood swings from elation to depression, anger, shopping sprees, inappropriate giddiness.

Post-traumatic stress disorder: Extreme anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks about past emotional, physical, sexual abuse or traumatic childbirth.

Getting Help

According to Dr. Diane Sanford, co-author of  Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom's Postpartum Survival Guide, getting help as soon as possible is the key to treatment.

"The sooner you get help, the faster you’ll recover and be able to enjoy your baby and new motherhood," Sanford said.

And if you recognize some of the symptoms in a relative or friend?

"First, let the woman know it’s not her fault or because she’s a bad mom/person but because she has a 'medical condition,' which requires treatment for her to get better," Dr. Sanford said. "Encourage and support her getting her condition treated by helping her find a health provider (psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.) who can accurately diagnose and treat her. Offer to go with her to her appointment and make certain she’s following up with treatment."

Stone says awareness is vital.

"I'm always surprised at how little women as a general rule are involved in the issue of PPD," Stone said. "It's an illness of motherhood, and has the ability, if untreated, to negatively affect the health of both mother and child for the rest of their lives. It is crucial that ALL women are aware of these illnesses and their risk factors and symptoms, so that we can look out for each other and our babies. All women need to care about this issue."

Have you experienced any form of postpartum depression?


Image via Venturist/Flickr

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ChEMOM ChEMOM

No, Thankfully! I was well aware of it, when they discussed giving me reglan for my no milk issues I said no because a side effect of it was depression and I did not want to roll that dice right after giving birth! Depression and some suicides run in my family and so far I have had no issues but when I was pregnant I was worried about the post partum period but I had no issues luckily.

CherB... CherBearCM

Yes to the most extreme degree with my first born, with my second only the normal stuff.

CherB... CherBearCM

Oh and thank you for trying to shed some light on it, it really is misunderstood and the more information we can get out there about it, the better!

qrex912 qrex912

I was diagnosed with post partum psychosis earlier this week. I am glad to see this article, although it is painful and shameful for me to read, I think its always good for the myths to be dispelled and for people to get real information. Its a very misunderstood disorder, and should be talked about more. I was so ashamed when my symptoms started, I felt so guilty and disgusting. i think if we open up the conversation and bring the disorders into the light, more people will get help sooner.

nonmember avatar Erin W.

I experienced postpartum panic and OCD, as well as probably a little bit of PTSD fueling both.

A month before my daughter was born, my best friend who was 20 weeks along lost her baby. She and I have several friends who have lost their babies as well, one in particular whose baby died at 2 months of SIDS. All of that really freaked me out when it came to my little girl. I was constantly checking her to make sure she was still breathing (more so than normal. I know every mom does that, but this was literally constantly. It got to where it disrupted my life.) For the first 3 months of my daughter's life I lived in the constant fear that something horrible was going to happen to her - or that if I left her, I might get into a horrible car accident or something and leave her without a mother.

I wanted to get treatment, but we don't have insurance and we were incredibly broke for the first year my daughter was alive. It gradually wore away, but the change was EXTREMELY gradual. I still have panic attacks from time to time and I still check both my kids fairly constantly.

I talked with a lot of friends about what I was feeling though and in my own way I worked through it. It was hard and I wouldn't suggest anyone take that route. If you can get help, get help. I needed it, I just didn't have access to it, but I did all I could otherwise.

nonmember avatar Ginger

You forgot to mention social thought under psychosis. According to my therapist, it is much more common than wanting to kill your baby. Thanks for shedding light on this!

sodapple sodapple

i did, i was alone with my newborn most of the time with no family close by, i got pretty depressed.

Phils... PhilsBabyMama

I did not, but my good friend did.  :(

Ashlea White Davis

I had postpartum and it was tough. I felt like everything I did was wrong and I worried constantly. I was so exhausted and I thought that was it, but my doctor knew I wasn't ok when he asked me how I was doing and I cried telling him how terrible of a mother I felt like I was all the time. I wasn't, but I really felt that way. I'm normally a sunshiney kind of person and that was a dark time. Should've been my happiest! I felt so ashamed. But I started a low dose of Zoloft and took naps whenever I could. It helped. I was ok a year later and no longer needed the meds. Thank you for the article! I never expected it would happen to me. Caught my husband off guard too! He didn't know what was wrong with me! Thanks for spreading the word. :)

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