New mothers may experience moderate to severe depression symptoms often described as the “baby blues”. Family and friends commonly tell them that these feelings of sadness are “normal”. Many women often accept this popular but misleading information and ignore their symptoms of depression, hoping that they get will back to normal in due time.
I have noticed that a significant number of women are experiencing extended periods of the “baby blues” which has actually developed into depression. What may have appeared to be typical symptoms to new mothers is now becoming an emotional burden for which few women are seeking professional help.
Approximately, 50 percent of women experience “baby blues” after childbirth. This consists of feelings of sadness, fatigue, frequent crying spells, worry and irritability. This is fairly short-lived and lasts from several days to a week at most. For 10-20 percent of women, these symptoms last longer and can also be characterized by feelings of hopelessness, feelings of inadequacy (as a parent), severe guilt and difficulty sleeping.
Depressed mothers often report not feeling attached to their babies and they have no desire to hold or feed them. Some women may even experience thoughts of harming their newborn child. These symptoms are consistent with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The criteria for MDD is having at least 5 of the symptoms listed above for two weeks or more. These women are no longer suffering from “baby blues”. They have postpartum depression and should be treated immediately before they harm themselves or their babies.
Effective treatment options for postpartum depression include psychotherapy and/or medications. Women experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression should contact a psychiatrist for an evaluation but they may also discuss their symptoms with their OB/GYN, primary care physician (PCP) or therapist.
FDA approved antidepressants for MDD include serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very helpful form of therapy for depression treatment. It consists of the therapist helping the patient to recognize their bad thoughts and work towards changing them. It is considered a psychiatric emergency when mothers have thoughts of wanting to harm herself or the baby. These women will require immediate hospitalization.
Many women choose not to seek treatment due to the stigma of being labeled as “crazy” or feeling ashamed about their negative feelings towards their child. Women should recognize that postpartum depression is as impairing as a physical illness. Patients I have treated have seen a significant improvement in their symptoms. Their depression symptoms resolved and they formed a closer bond with their infants.
If you or any mother you know is struggling with postpartum depression, please seek help immediately. Proper treatment will help the baby and mother. We do not want depression to prevent women from enjoying the precious moments of motherhood.
About the Author
Dion Short Metzger, MD is a board certified psychiatrist who emphasizes the importance of the recognition of psychiatric disorders among patients and their families. She has a passion for assisting those who suffer from mental illness while trying to dispel the stigma attached to such labels. She believes that education is the most powerful tool at her disposal to make that possible.