Do You Have Postpartum Mood Disorder?
One in every eight moms develops a postpartum mood disorder. Nearly 80 percent may go undiagnosed. Are you at risk?
When Holly Betten, 28, came home from the hospital after a rough delivery, she had one day to adjust to her new life as a mom before her husband went back to working 12-hour days as a computer-software architect. Her son, Henry, became severely jaundiced, wouldn't breastfeed, and almost landed back in the hospital for losing too much weight. "All I could think was, 'What did I get myself into? I should never have become a mom,'" recalls Betten, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I felt totally overwhelmed and inadequate -- I couldn't even feed my child." Then Henry developed colic and began to wail all the time. Not surprisingly, so did Betten: "I'd be happy one minute, then crying hysterically the next. I just wanted to leave the baby in his room and walk away."
Her husband worried that Betten was becoming depressed, but she insisted that she could soldier on. "I just attributed it to stress and exhaustion, and refused to ask for help," Betten recalls. And she knew that "the baby blues" could make you feel sad, moody, or irritable. In fact, the condition, triggered by hormone shifts, can affect as many as 50 to 80 percent of new moms.
Such confusion about what life with a new baby is supposed to be like is a major reason women don't seek help. Another problem: "The shame and embarrassment that surround postpartum mood disorders also keep moms from acknowledging the issue," adds psychiatrist Ariel Dalfen, M.D., Toronto author of When Baby Brings the Blues. "But without treatment, postpartum depression can linger and become more severe."
Postpartum depression (PPD) can strike anyone, and it has nothing to do with how strong you are or how much you love your baby. When Brooke Shields wrote about her devastating bout with the illness in her memoir, Down Came the Rain, she helped put a very public face on the issue. "Her book showed that nobody, no matter how rich, famous, or beautiful, is immune to PPD," points out Margaret Howard, Ph.D., director of the Postpartum Depression Day Hospital at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.
Even Tom Cruise's diatribe on national television against antidepressants and Shields's use of them wound up doing a lot of good by bringing the postpartum-depression discussion into America's living rooms, says Birdie Gunyon Meyer, R.N., the president of Postpartum Support International (PSI), a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues related to childbirth. In speaking out, Shields joined singer Marie Osmond, who also wrote a book about suffering from PPD, and Mary Jo Codey, wife of the former governor of New Jersey, who not only opened up about her own experiences but also helped New Jersey become the first (and thus far only) state to mandate that all pregnant women be screened for and educated about postpartum depression.
Soon such help may be available nationwide. A piece of legislation known as the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mothers Act -- named for a young mother who committed suicide after suffering postpartum psychosis, an extreme form of PPD -- would help fund related research and education, provide training to medical professionals about the disorder, and increase treatment options and support services. At press time, the bill had been passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and was headed for the Senate. (To learn more and to sign a petition in support of the act, go to PSI's website, postpartum.net.)