A 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.
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."
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.
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?
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