Many people have trouble asking for help when they need it. A depressed individual finds it almost impossible to ask for help. When family members and friends begin to notice symptoms of depression and anxiety in a woman who has given birth in the past year, they should offer assistance and support immediately. They should also encourage her to discuss her symptoms with her physician.
Treatment for PPD can be as varied as the symptoms. The most common treatments for depression are antidepressants, psychotherapy, self-help, and participation in a support group. A simple thyroid test can determine whether a thyroid condition is a cause or contributing factor in PPD.
Some medical and childbirth associations train and certify postpartum doulas who, in addition to providing information and resources, also provide physical, emotional and practical support to pregnant women, mothers, and families. Postpartum doulas may teach relaxation and massage, offer one-on-one care, home care, bed-rest assistance or sibling care, run errands, and prepare meals. Postpartum doulas do not perform any clinical care, however; their role is strictly non-medical.
Each person will have to experiment to find the right combination of treatments; often, multiple treatments are the most effective. Some women find that talking with other mothers in a support group is enough; many more women need the further assistance of antidepressants or individual psychotherapy. Whatever combination is recommended or works best, self-care is essential.
- It’s not always easy, but try to get plenty of rest! Try to nap while the baby’s napping. A clean house is not the highest priority when you have a new baby.
- Ask for help; don’t wait for someone to offer.
- Seek emotional support from your husband or partner, family, and friends.
- Get dressed and leave the house for at least a short time each day.
- Try to spend time alone with your partner.
- Ask your physician to advise you on possible medical treatments.
- Be assertive about your concerns. Not all health care professionals recognize the symptoms or seriousness of postpartum depression.
- Get a referral to a mental health professional specializing in treating PPD.
- Talk with other mothers so you can learn from their experiences.
- Talk with a lactation consultant if you are having difficulty breastfeeding.
- Join one of the many support groups that are now available to help women who suffer from postpartum depression. Call a hotline or your birthing center to access information and services.
Psychotherapy and Antidepressants
Some therapists are experienced at helping women who are suffering from postpartum depression. The therapist should focus on your present emotions. Delving into past relationships in search of answers is often counter-productive. A therapist with a PPD specialty can provide a safe, comforting, and confidential setting for a woman to begin understanding her depression.
Therapists may recommend the use of antidepressants as a supplement to therapy. Many women are hesitant to take an antidepressant, particularly if breastfeeding. While many antidepressants do contaminate the milk supply, many more do not. A study reported in the September 1996 American Journal of Psychiatry recommended certain antidepressants that are not transported into the mother’s milk in significant quantities.
Be sure to inform your therapist or doctor that you are breastfeeding if antidepressants are prescribed.
Better for You, Better for the Baby
According to a recent study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, weight gain in the breastfeeding infant is not affected by the mother’s use of antidepressants, but it is affected by a mother’s depression. The authors note that the use of antidepressants should not be the first line of treatment for PPD, as the long-term effects on the infant are not yet known, but should definitely be considered if other treatment options fail. All agree that a mother’s depression negatively impacts her baby and that treatment for PPD should be sought for the health of both mother and child.