Sharla Prior was 25 years old when her first baby was born. She’d imagined being thrilled with the arrival of her healthy daughter. Instead, she felt detached and sad. She had difficulty bonding with the child. To make matters worse, she felt “embarrassed because I was not in love with my baby.”
Sharla was suffering from postpartum depression, a condition affecting 15 percent to 25 percent of all women who have recently given birth.
The majority of new mothers experience some mood changes immediately following the baby’s arrival. These baby blues may include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, crying, decreased concentration and difficulty sleeping. They are thought to be linked to hormonal fluctuations and usually pass within a few days or weeks.
Postpartum depression, on the other hand, generally develops six to 12 months after giving birth and is accompanied by such intense symptoms that mothers are unable to care for their babies or function on a daily basis.
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Signs of postpartum depression include loss of appetite, intense irritability and anger, overwhelming fatigue, sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, and difficulty sleeping even when tired. Women may not want to care for their babies. They may withdraw from families and friends. In extreme cases, they may think of killing themselves or their infants.
Fortunately, good treatment is available for postpartum depression sufferers. Several anti-depressant medications (SSRIs) are considered safe for pregnant and nursing mothers to take. Side effects, when present, are generally mild and felt to be less damaging than allowing severe depression to continue untreated. The Mayo Clinic considers four anti-depressants, Celexa, Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac, as potential options for preg-nant and lactating women. As always, it is important to discuss all treatment plans with an obstetrician, primary care physician or health care practitioner before starting on them.
Equally essential is emotional and physical support. Fathers, family members and friends can assist a mother battling postpartum depression in the following ways:
• Help her get adequate sleep. The weeks and months after the baby comes home are notoriously short of sleep. For mothers with postpartum depression, that fatigue can further darken their mood. Develop a plan that allows her to get five hours of uninterrupted sleep. Take shifts. Supplement feedings. Continue the schedule on weekends. Do this until Mom’s mood improves and she’s no longer feeling overwhelmed.
• Help her get enough food. There’s often little time for her to eat and even less time to prepare nutritious meals. Encourage Mom to make a list of five or six appealing, quick and healthy snacks. Then stock her refrigerator with these items and post the list in an obvious spot.
Opt for food that is high in protein, such as hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt, nuts, peanut butter or protein bars.
• Help her get time to herself. Time away from the baby is vital. Offer to baby-sit for at least one hour each day so she can take a walk, go to the gym, wash her hair or take a welcomed nap.
• Help her with daily chores. Have Mom make a to-do list, then enlist volunteers to pitch in where they can. She may need grocery shopping, dog walking, childcare, laundry or errands. Every offer of assistance helps her feel less overwhelmed.
When Prior was asked what she wanted other mothers to know about postpartum depression, she immediately responded, “You’re not alone.
Postpartum depression is so much more common that you realize. Get support. Get professional help. It’s OK to feel what you are feeling.”
Addressing Postpartum Depression
We’re fortunate that San Luis Obispo County has many resources available to women with postpartum depression. Start with this list, courtesy of the San Luis Obispo County Child Abuse Prevention Council. Individuals listed are private practioners who specialize in postpartum depression issues.
• Postpartum Depression Support Line: 549-7786
• Bilingual Postpartum Depression Warmline: 541-3367
• Postpartum Depression Support Group — Michelle Hobby, Ph.D.: 459-8117
• Diane Rhodes: 610-2069
• Kristi Williams, MA: 610-3101
• Julie Seden-Hansen, MS, LMFT: 423-4028
San Luis Obispo
• Stephanie Baisa-Wilson: 234-4484
• Leslie Barber: 903-3051
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com