Postpartum Depression: The Baby Blues on Steroids “What is wrong with me? Why am I so sad? Why am I so angry with my baby for crying? I know that’s what babies do. I just can’t handle it.”
By Carrie Carter, M.D.
Does this sound familiar? You may recognize it as the voice of the baby blues, a temporary tearful and sad condition that most women experience in the first ten days after delivery.
But more concerning is that this may be the voice of postpartum depression, a painful, medical condition that results in a more severe depression, which lasts more than three weeks and often longer than six months. It occurs in up to 13% of women after delivery (which translates to a half-million women in the U.S. every year). Postpartum depression needs medical treatment, and the sooner the better.
To understand postpartum depression, let’s review all that just happened to mom. What a shock it is to suddenly go from pre-labor to postpartum! It is a shock to your body because:
- your baby literally moves through and out of your body in a matter of hours
- as baby exits your hormone levels also drop dramatically
- you’re experiencing sleep deprivation
- you’re producing breast milk
- you’re experiencing the 24/7 job of caring for this tiny infant
It is amazing how a baby so small has needs so big that they completely fill every minute of each twenty-four-hour period.
Yes, no wonder most moms feel worn out and have the blues. But those with postpartum depression not only have the blues, they have the blues on steroids.
Why does postpartum depression happen? The trigger for postpartum depression appears to be when a sudden, dramatic drop in hormone levels occurs in susceptible women. But “susceptible” does not mean she brought this on herself. Susceptible women often have a personal or family history of depression. The same hormone drop that occurs in all mothers after delivery only happens to trigger a chemical imbalance in the brains of susceptible women.
Postpartum depression does not occur because “you’re not a good enough mother,” or because “you’re not trying hard enough” or “making the wrong choices.” There is no shame and no blame with postpartum depression; just the need for help.
Balance the chemical imbalance
The most effective treatment at this time is to use either the antidepressant Zoloft (sertraline) or Prozac (fluoxetine) for a minimum of six months beyond the point when the symptoms go away. Moms must not stop either medication abruptly, but must continue taking it as the doctor recommends or until he or she tells you to taper it off. Unfortunately, if she needs to begin antidepressant medication right away, her doctor will likely recommend that breastfeeding must cease. This prompts a lot of moms to try and “tough it out” instead of stopping breastfeeding and starting medication.
Don’t trust mom to know best
But when a mom has postpartum depression, she is usually the last one to realize the degree that she needs help. Father usually knows best under these circumstances.
Also, beware any newly postpartum mom who behaves bizarrely, sees hallucinations, or makes strange claims. She may have the severe, psychotic form of postpartum depression and this is a psychiatric emergency! Get help without delay! For more information visit Postpartum Support at www.postpartum.net or phone: 1-805-967-7636.
Do as I say, not as I did
This is a time, Moms, when I urge you to do as I say and not as I did.
I suffered with postpartum depression after the birth of my now twelve-year-old son, Robert. But I was not wise. I thought I could tough it out and continue breastfeeding longer rather than stop breastfeeding and go on antidepressant medication. I was the last person equipped to make that decision, yet I was stubborn and did not listen to the kind urgings of family and friends.
When I finally was so depleted and unable to resist any longer, I went on an antidepressant. But since I waited so long it took quite a while to get the depression under control. I suffered, my husband suffered, and my baby suffered. I still regret it.
Let’s make a deal
If you hope to be pregnant again, I want you to make a deal with me now — that you will be open to your doctor, husband or other family member or friend if one or more tells you that you need to be checked for postpartum depression.
If you are currently depressed — whether it is postpartum or not — today is the day to get help. Call your doctor’s office and tell them your symptoms. If you feel too awful or just can’t to do it yourself, have your husband or friend call for you.
Even in the darkest moments of depression there is hope as long as you let others help you.