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Women & Mental Health: Pregnancy & Postpartum

We call them bundles of joy—and for the most part, they are. Helping a newborn learn and grow can fulfill a parent in unparalleled ways.

But for many women, giving birth can also bring on mood swings or feelings of sadness.

As many as one in seven women who give birth experience symptoms of postpartum depression. It’s a condition that strikes new mothers when they’re most vulnerable, and it can make the challenges of caring for a newborn that much harder.

“A lot of women do not understand what is happening to them,” said Katherine L. Wisner, M.D., lead author of a study on postpartum depression. “They think they’re just stressed or they believe it is how having a baby is supposed to feel.”

It’s a matter of concern for many family practice physicians. Women who struggle with postpartum depression often face cognitive difficulties, suicidal thoughts, decreased appetite and increased drug or alcohol use. The deep depression that sometimes accompanies childbirth can also impact the growing newborn, who has an increased likelihood of developing an insecure attachment style.

Unfortunately, many new mothers don’t seek help for their depression out of feelings of guilt, shame or fear.

Causes and symptoms

It’s hard to nail down exactly what causes postpartum depression. Doctors know it’s related to the hormone fluctuations that occur after pregnancy, but there are a host of other factors that can influence a new mother’s chances of developing it.

For example, women with a history of anxiety or depression have an increased likelihood. The stress of caring for an infant, particularly one with a difficult temperament, can also aggravate the situation. External factors may play a role as well, such as exposure to toxins, poor diet and lack of a support network.

The symptoms of postpartum depression vary widely. Some red flags to look for include:

  • Feelings of anxiety, guilt, fear or overwhelm
  • Difficulty bonding with the child
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Frequent crying


Treatment options

If you’re suffering from postpartum depression, your Portland obstetrics specialist can help. The signs often begin during pregnancy, and if caught early, the depression can be treated before it has the chance to significantly impact the baby.

First and foremost, new mothers who are depressed need timely mental health care. Women with mild depression often find counseling effective, especially if their partners receive it too. In more severe cases, counseling may be combined with antidepressants.

Adjusting the mother’s lifestyle can also make a difference. Bolstering her support network, cutting down on unnecessary responsibilities and ensuring plenty of sleep can help reduce overwhelming feelings, while parent coaching or infant massage classes can help strengthen her bond with the newborn.

The most important thing for women to remember is that postpartum depression is something that simply happens—it’s no one’s fault. However, they can take steps to bring it under control. It all starts with reaching out to ask for help.
At Northwest Primary Care, we can help. We offer a wide range of services for individuals as well as couples. Contact us today to learn more.

[Photo by Cristi Sebastian Photography via CC License]

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