Postpartum depression is serious

Published 4:48 pm Monday, June 8, 2009

By Staff
A new baby!  What could be more wonderful and exciting?  But for one out of seven new mothers, there is an overwhelming sense of sadness, lack of energy and feelings of inadequacy.  These symptoms of postpartum depression are often embarrassing to the new mother.  She wonders why she isn’t happy and thrilled to be caring for her little “bundle of joy.” 
Fortunately, for most women these feelings are short-lived and interfere little with her job as new parent. However, if the symptoms are severe, the new mother needs treatment with a combination of medication, social support and counseling.  If left untreated, the mother’s mood disorder can ultimately harm her child.
A newborn’s brain is developing at a rapid rate that will never again be matched in life.  Every day he is learning new things about his environment and learning the trust that is necessary for normal development.  One of the first things he learns is that mom’s smiling face and her soothing voice go together! 
Sometimes in my practice as a pediatrician it is very obvious that the mother is depressed.  I walk into the exam room and the baby is lying on the table while mom sits in a chair – away from her child with a blank expression on her face.  When I ask, “How are things going?” she replies with one word: “fine.” But sometimes I totally miss the signs of depression as the mother puts on her best effort to hide her feelings.
For these reasons, pediatricians are learning to use screening tools that will help us do our job better.   The baby’s doctor is usually the professional she will see the most in her child’s first year of life. Therefore, postpartum depression is part of pediatrics.  If we don’t intervene, then who will?
It is our job to identify community resources and make referrals that will have a positive impact on the mother’s sense of well-being.  This will allow her to develop the bond that benefits both mother and child. 
Sometimes we also have to “run interference” for the young mother.  We explain to other family members that this is a common illness, related to hormonal changes and a major life changing event – the birth of a child.  Like diabetes or high blood pressure, postpartum depression is not something a mother could have prevented or treat by herself.  It is also important to know that, for approximately half these women, depression will occur again after the birth of another child.
Most  moms  of young children are tired. It is normal for them to get up-set from time-to-time and even to cry occasionally. Family and friends need to be supportive.  But when a true postpartum depression develops, professional  help is needed. Encourage the woman to talk with her doctor or to her child’s pediatrician—and follow up to be sure she is getting the appropriate interventions.

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