Moms With PPD Have Always Known What Science Is Finally Proving

As a former sufferer of both postpartum depression and anxiety, I know from experience how difficult it can be to get people to take your diagnosis seriously. It's estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of new moms suffer from postpartum mood disorders, yet those illnesses remain among the most misunderstood and under-researched of all the mood disorders. It's hard to treat something we barely understand, and that's why new research that shows how postpartum depression actually affects moms' brains is bringing new hope to those who suffer.


In a study published this week in the journal Trends in Neurosciences, researchers actually found that postpartum depression and anxiety involve "fundamentally different brain activity" from mood disorders in people who aren't moms. According to lead researcher Dr. Jodi Pawluski, postpartum depression and anxiety create different responses in the brain than any other mood disorder -- particularly in the amygdala, which controls our fear and threat responses. 

Sufferers of generalized anxiety and depression tend to show hyperactivity in their amygdala, but in moms with postpartum anxiety and depression, the amygdala actually shows a decreased response to emotional cues. This may explain why some moms have trouble bonding with their babies, and it proves that postpartum mood disorders aren't simply an extension of "normal" depression and anxiety.

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So what does this mean for those of us who suffer from postpartum mood disorders? Well, first of all, it confirms something moms have known for a long time: These disorders are serious, and we're not making them up.

When I first started experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety as a new mom, it was all too easy to write them off as "baby blues" or as "not that bad." I didn't want to believe that postpartum depression could happen to me, and it seemed to only make people uncomfortable when I admitted that I was having trouble bonding with my newborn or harboring feelings of resentment about being a mom.

If you've never had depression or anxiety before, it's tempting to think postpartum mood disorders can't happen to you. But, they can. They're fundamentally different from anything any of us has ever experienced, and this research proves it.

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Most importantly, Dr. Pawluski says this research will help doctors better understand postpartum anxiety and depression and hopefully lead to new, more personalized treatments.

"Motherhood really can change the mother, which is something we often overlook," Pawluski explained in a statement. "The more we know about the neurobiology and neurophysiology of these perinatal mental illnesses, the better we will be able to treat them."

Unfortunately, there's no quick fix for these disorders, but what this research offers instead is a message of hope and a powerful form of validation for struggling moms. We're not alone in this fight, and with each new breakthrough, we get one step closer to helping every woman get the help and attention she needs to feel like herself again.

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