Linda Lewis Griffith

Postpartum depression: Symptoms, risk factors and resources for mothers

Postpartum depression is estimated to affect 1 in 7 women.
Postpartum depression is estimated to affect 1 in 7 women. TNS

Postpartum depression made the front page last week when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that all women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth be screened for depression.

That’s good news to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. According to a statement from ACOG President Mark S. DeFrancesco, M.D., “Perinatal depression — or depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after delivery — is estimated to affect one in seven women, making it one of the most common medical complications associated with pregnancy.” Unfortunately, fewer than 20 percent of sufferers ever report their symptoms.

The Postpartum Support International website says that symptoms can vary among women, but may include:

  • Feelings of anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance
  • Crying and sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, shame or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest, joy or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Possible thoughts of harming the baby or yourself

It’s normal to have mood swings, feel sad or overwhelmed, have crying spells or trouble sleeping in the days following childbirth. The symptoms, commonly referred to as “baby blues,” are not severe and go away by themselves in a few days or weeks. They do not require any treatment.

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, can be disabling and does not go away on its own. It needs to be treated by a doctor.

Certain factors increase a woman’s risk of developing postpartum depression. They include:

  • A personal history of depression or another mental illness
  • A family history of depression or mental illness
  • Lack of support from family and friends
  • Anxiety or negative feelings about the pregnancy
  • Problems with a previous pregnancy or birth
  • Marriage or financial problems
  • Young age
  • Poverty
  • Substance abuse

Fortunately, postpartum depression is treatable. Talking with a counselor or psychologist and a prescription for antidepressants can help alleviate the symptoms and improve a woman’s mood and ability to care for her newborn.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column in special to the Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit advises women to notify their doctors if:

  • The “baby blues” last longer than two weeks
  • The symptoms of depression get worse over time
  • The symptoms of depression begin any time after delivery, even many months later
  • It is hard to perform tasks at work or at home
  • You cannot care for yourself or your baby
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

Tips for avoiding postpartum depression:

  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Don’t try to do too much or be perfect.
  • Eat small, nutritious, easy-to-fix meals throughout the day.
  • Ask your partner, family and friends for help.
  • Make time to go out, visit friends, spend time with your partner or relax alone.
  • Discuss your feelings with your partner, family and friends.
  • Talk with other mothers and learn from their experiences.
  • Avoid making any life changes during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.

Postpartum resources in SLO County:

Postpartum Depression Support Line at ALPHA Pregnancy and Parenting Support: 805-541-3367

Center for Family Strengthening: 805-543-6216