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Psychology for Moms
When it's more than the "Baby Blues"
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Nov 5, 2005, 20:20

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From the moment the plus sign appeared in the little window of your pregnancy test, you've been eagerly awaiting the birth of your new baby. After nine months of bizarre food cravings, swollen ankles and having your belly rubbed by every stranger on the street, the "big day" finally arrives.

The birth of a baby is supposed to be a joyous and exciting time in a mother's life. But for many women, it is the exact opposite. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 70-80% of women experience the "baby blues" after childbirth and about 10% of women develop postpartum depression (PPD), a serious medical condition that develops during the first months after childbirth.

To help address this serious health issue, National Depression Screening Day -- the program that offers free, anonymous screenings for mental health disorders to the public -- is incorporating screening for postpartum depression into this year's event.

"Many women go through a period of feeling sad, anxious, or irritable after the birth of a baby - this is often referred to as the 'baby blues.' However, if these symptoms last longer than two weeks, it could be an indication of a far more serious postpartum mood disorder such as postpartum depression. By incorporating screening for PPD into National Depression Screening Day, we hope to educate both clinicians and the public about the differences between the baby blues and serious mood disorders," says Douglas G. Jacobs, MD, executive director of National Depression Screening Day and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Like many women who suffer from a postpartum mood disorder, Katherine Stone thought that the anxiety, depression and insomnia she was experiencing was something that most mothers went through. It wasn't until she started to have thoughts about harming her seven-week-old son that she realized she needed help. "I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I had never had thoughts of harming a flea, much less a human being," says Stone, whose son is now three years old. "I felt like a defective human being, and was convinced my son would never love me. Of course, I was wrong and I know that now, but at the time I was sure my life was over."

"Feeling sad after delivering a healthy baby doesn't mean that you are a failure as a mother," says Paul A. Gluck, MD, Chair of the Florida Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "New moms need to know that postpartum depression is not a character flaw but is actually a chemical imbalance. PPD is a real illness that responds well to treatment," says Gluck.

Fortunately, Stone was able to take advantage of her company's employee-assistance program and called the help line. She was put in touch with a therapist and began treatment. Stone has completely recovered, and now supports other women who experience similar symptoms through her weblog, called Postpartum Progress, at http://postpartumprogress.typepad.com.

"Postpartum depression was merely glossed over in my pregnancy books and birth preparation classes. I was completely unprepared for the reality of what might happen. If I had received better information, I could have gotten the proper treatment sooner, and suffered a lot less," says Stone. "We need to educate both the public and health care professionals about the prevalence of postpartum mood disorders so women can get the help they need and deserve."

Those who are concerned that they or a loved one may be suffering from postpartum depression can attend a free, anonymous screening at one of the more than 2,500 sites across the country participating in National Depression Screening Day on October 6, 2005. As part of the program, attendees will have the opportunity to take a brief, written screening and talk to a health professional about their results. Those who score positive will be referred to local treatment resources.

National Depression Screening Day, now in its fifteenth year, is a program of the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health. The free program provides a non-threatening way for the public to be screened for depression and related illnesses such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression. To find a local screening site, visit www.mentalhealthscreening.org (beginning in mid-August).

The Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression
Symptoms of the Baby Blues (symptoms usually last less than a week):
* Crying for no apparent reason.
* Difficulty eating, sleeping or making decisions.
* Chronic doubts about caring for the baby.

Symptoms of postpartum depression:
* Strong feelings of depression and anger that continue beyond one or two months after childbirth.
* Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, or helplessness that increase each week and get in the way of everyday activities.
* Inability to care for oneself or the baby.
* Difficulty concentrating or doing tasks at home or on the job.
* Change in appetite.
* Concern and worry about the baby are too intense, or interest in the baby is lacking.
* Anxiety or panic attacks.
* Withdrawal or isolation from friends and family.
* Fears of harming the baby.
* Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

How Husbands, Partners, Friends, and Families Can Help
* Get a referral to a doctor that is trained to deal with postpartum depression.
* Show love and compassion, not anger or impatience.
* Help her get plenty of rest and proper nutrition.
* Build a support group of friends and family who can help with childcare, cooking, laundry and housework.
* Offer her understanding and reassurance.
* Take some time off from work to be with her and the baby to prevent isolation.
* Care for the baby for a few hours and encourage the new mother to spend some relaxing time with friends. Suggest she go to dinner, the movies or for a long walk.
* Do not judge your partner's feelings or reactions. Instead, listen and sympathize.
* Be patient. It will take time for the new mother to recover.


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