Postpartum Depression used to be called “the smiling depression”, because women who are suffering often manage to hide their symptoms so well. Although Postpartum Depression is better understood today, women often continue to hide their feelings because they are afraid others will think they are a bad mother, that they didn’t want a child or, worst of all, that someone may take their child away from them. Fortunately, none of this is true and there is help available.
Postpartum Depression is actually a broad term that covers multiple disorders that can manifest in very different ways. Sometimes a woman does appear very depressed, including feeling sad, guilty, no longer enjoying things she used to like to do, not eating enough or eating too much, and/or thinking that she or her family would be better off if she were dead or gone. But it doesn’t always look like that.
Often, mom is more worried than sad, and she finds that she cannot stop worrying no matter what she does. Her worries can be focused on her baby’s health and well-being, and these worries may prevent her from doing important, everyday things like eating, taking care of her personal hygiene, and sleeping even when she’s more tired than she’s ever been in her life!
In addition to excessive worry, which is often referred to as an Anxiety Disorder in clinical terms, women can also experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if they have a very long, difficult or scary childbirth; this is especially true if they have an emergency cesarean section. Mothers experiencing PTSD may have flashbacks or nightmares about the birth, they may avoid returning to the place where the baby was born, and they may also find themselves checking on the baby constantly to make sure everything is OK.
With any of these disorders, a mother may also experience what are called “intrusive thoughts”. These are frightening thoughts that appear without warning and unsolicited in a new mother’s mind for example, the thought of dropping the baby down the stairs. Of course mothers find these thoughts very upsetting and have no intention of acting on them. But they are understandably reluctant to tell anyone about these thoughts and often feel guilty for having them, even though the thoughts are not their fault.
What causes women to experience Postpartum Depression or other similar disorders after a baby is born? We don’t know for sure, but we have some reliable information about what places a woman at higher risk. These “risk factors” include a previous history of depression or anxiety in the woman or her immediate family; marital or financial difficulties; having a special-needs baby; having little or no social support; and experiencing any other big life changes around the time that the baby is born, for example moving, changing jobs, or losing a parent or another close family member.
Fortunately, if a mom or her family or friends realize that something is wrong and she gets help, we can say with confidence that she will get better.
There are several different things a mom can do to feel like herself again, including:
Mary’s Center offers services in many of the areas listed above. We have a dedicated Maternal Mental Health Program led by Morgan Gross. You can learn more about the program in this clip from Telemundo’s Linea Directa show (in Spanish). We have nutritionists and a fully-staffed WIC department to offer assistance with food, nutrition and overall wellness. We also run support and education groups for pregnant and new moms. Please call 202-545-2061 for information about the groups.
We also have bilingual therapists to provide individual psychotherapy in Spanish and English, as well as psychiatrists to offer medication consultation and management.
Whether you are a mom, a friend or family member, or a healthcare provider, if you have a question about Postpartum Depression or related issues or our support and education groups, please feel free to contact our Maternal Mental Health Program Manager Morgan Gross at 202-545-2061. She and her staff are here to help!