This post is brought to you by our partner Clinical Trials of Texas, Inc. (CTT).
The first few months of having a newborn at home are not for the faint of heart. Hormones and feelings get so mixed up it’s hard to figure out what’s typical and what’s cause for concern. Especially now, with things so up in the air in our world, our emotions are all over the place. Combine those stressors with a newborn who needs you all the time and trying to adapt to a new schedule on very little sleep it’s no wonder our emotions take a hit. It can be difficult to know the difference between regular overwhelmed or out of sorts feelings and feelings that actually can be treated.
Postpartum depression affects new mothers across the board. It’s not exclusive…it can affect first time moms or fifth time moms. There’s no rhyme or reason and oftentimes it hits you when you least expect it. So what should we look for to determine whether we need some extra help? Dr. Martha Leatherman with Clinical Trials of Texas, Inc. (CTT) provides insight into postpartum depression and answers questions about this common condition.
What do you mean by postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a medical description of depression that occurs after a woman gives birth. “Postpartum” means “after the time of birth.” We usually see it between four weeks and one year of a woman’s giving birth.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a medical condition that occurs in some women after they deliver a child—even a normal healthy birth. It is a mood disorder and the symptoms can be very disabling. It is different from what some people call the “baby blues” that some women have after having a baby.
Wouldn’t it be normal to have mood changes after having a baby?
In some cases, it is expected and not uncommon for a woman to feel stressed, have some mood fluctuations, and even feel “depressed” after the birth of a baby—especially if the birth was difficult, or there are other problems in the household. Some people call this “baby blues,” but it is not normal to be unable to function or to be so depressed that you cannot care for yourself or your baby.
What is the difference between postpartum depression and baby blues?
Postpartum depression is a serious biological disorder affecting neurotransmitters in the brain (brain chemicals) whereas baby blues is an expected reaction to a sudden change in someone’s life—such as after having a baby, or some hormonal fluctuations after birth that might cause temporary mood changes.
What are some of the symptoms of postpartum depression, and why do you say it is serious?
The symptoms of postpartum depression include: sad mood almost all of the time, loss of pleasure or enjoyment (even though the woman thinks she “should” be happy about the new baby), disturbed sleep—either sleeping far too much or far too little, appetite changes (usually a decrease in appetite), feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt. These core symptoms are often accompanied by anxiety and restlessness, or profound fatigue.
Postpartum depression can be very serious because sometimes it becomes so bad that a woman wants to kill herself or harm her baby or other children.
What causes it?
No one is entirely sure of the exact cause. Depression is a stress-sensitive illness, and for some women, the stress of pregnancy, childbirth, and a new baby might be enough to trigger a depression. Some people have a family history of depression and might be more vulnerable with the stress and hormone changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth. But for some women, we can’t find anything that might explain why she developed a depression. There is good evidence that in some women, hormone changes happen so quickly and suddenly after birth that the brain cannot adapt to them. For anyone with postpartum depression, the important thing to remember is that it is not your fault.
Is it treatable?
Yes, postpartum depression is very treatable. There are many medications that can help, as well as talk therapy and support groups. There is also a new medication that is FDA indicated for the treatment of postpartum depression called Zulresso ®.
What should I do if I think I have depression?
Reach out for help! Help is available in many places, including support groups, your obstetrician (the doctor who delivered your baby), your baby’s pediatrician, your local mental health clinic, or your primary care physician. Don’t stop asking for help until you get it! As you can see from our discussion so far, postpartum depression can mimic other disorders. Don’t assume that you’ll “get over it.” Please consult a professional who is experienced with depression and postpartum depression and have yourself evaluated.
What if I ask for help and they think I’m a bad mom?
It’s very important to know that depression is what is making you think you’re a bad mom, and we understand that. Doctors and medical people want to help you get better. It’s extremely important for you to reach out and get help.
Dr. Martha Leatherman is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist and Principal Investigator of a Postpartum Depression research study at Clinical Trials of Texas, Inc. (CTT). CTT is a woman-owned research site that has been active in the community for 20 years. It conducts trials which are important to San Antonio, such as mental and behavioral health, diabetes, fatty liver, and COVID-19 vaccine studies. Visit SAresearch.com or call or text 210-949-0122 for more info.