Overcoming Postpartum Depression

By: Pamela Brill

We read about it in celebrity magazines and online, but never think it can happen to us. But when postpartum depression affects us or someone we love, it suddenly becomes personal—and real. For any woman who has been afflicted with this crippling, but curable illness, it can feel like the end of the world. But with the proper diagnosis and treatment, those who were once suffering from postpartum depression can move forward and resume their healthy, happy lifestyle.

Spotting the Warning Signs

After giving birth and returning home to settle in with a new baby, some women may not be feeling the euphoria that is often associated with welcoming a bundle of joy. "When a woman suffers from postpartum depression, her feelings of depression may be deeper and more noticeable," says Dr. Amos Grunebaum, a New York City-based ob/gyn and a lead formulator for Fairhaven Health. Telltale symptoms may include lack of appetite, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time, ignoring child care and intense sadness.

While some women may suffer from a mild case of the blues after giving birth, this is not to be confused with more severe depression. Clinical psychologist and author of Happy Endings, New Beginnings: Navigating Postpartum Disorders (New Horizon Press, February 2013) Susan Feingold distinguishes the two. "Symptoms of the blues are much less severe and can be intermittent…typically beginning within the first few days [after childbirth] and lasting up to two to three weeks," she says. Because they are short-lived, these symptoms do not require treatment.

In contrast, postpartum depression usually begins over the first three to four months, but can set in at any point within the first year after childbirth. "These women need professional help from a mental health provider—preferably with expertise in perinatal disorders," notes Feingold. "Early identification and treatment is optimal for a good prognosis. The good news is with short-term treatment, women recover and are able to bond with their baby and enjoy their life again."

Debunking the Myths

With all the media attention on postpartum depression, experts acknowledge that this illness still has misconceptions attached to it. "One of the biggest myths is that there's a certain personality type that gets this illness," notes Shoshana Bennett, a clinical psychologist specializing in postpartum depression. "The truth is postpartum depression can hit the most laidback, mellow women just as it can anyone else."

She also points to the perception that postpartum depression is a character weakness or personality flaw, which is completely unfounded. "It can happen to the best and strongest of women," she says. "No one is immune and no shame should be attached to this illness."

Seeking Help

Fortunately for any woman who thinks she might be suffering from postpartum depression, there is no shortage of support options. "The first step is to make the right diagnosis," says Dr. Grunebaum. He suggests taking the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Quiz (www.babymed.com/edinburgh-postpartum-depression-quiz) to gauge your level of depression. Seeking medical attention and discussing these results and your negative feelings with your doctor will help to determine if you'll require psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both.

Other useful resources include support groups like Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net), which can put you in touch with experts in your area, and books like Postpartum Depression for Dummies (written by Bennett). She has also created a free-of-charge online app PPD! Gone (ppdgone.com) that can be accessed via smartphone.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

No matter what form of treatment women choose, the good news is postpartum depression can be overcome. Experts stress the importance of continuing to take care of one's needs going forward. "For starters, I teach my clients how to discard the damaging myths of motherhood, how to build in regular time to recharge…and how to get some good nighttime sleep, the most advantageous types of exercise and the best and simplest foods to eat in order to boost their mood," offers Bennett.

 "Women would be wise to strike a balance between good self-care and self-nurturing, care for her baby, the couple's relationship and family," says Feingold. "Obviously, this is not easy with a baby, but the more exhausted and depleted she is, the greater the risk that she will not be healthy physically and emotionally. Balance is important for all of us, and those that neglect themselves have little to provide for others."