Study shows new moms can benefit from psychotherapy
Constant crying, midnight feedings, sleep deprivation and diaper changes can make any new mom feel blue. But what about when it’s more serious?
A recently published analysis in The Annals of Family Medicine shows that new moms suffering from depression who seek psychological therapy are less depressed and have improved relationships with their spouse, adjust to parenthood better and experience less stress and anxiety compared to those who don’t get help.
“After a woman has a baby, her whole life changes,” said OB-GYN John Harkins, MD, medical director of perinatal services at Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin, part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.
“Before having a child, a woman had the freedom to choose what she wanted to do. After giving birth, she is at home taking care of the child. While that is joyous for most women, it can be difficult and isolating,” he said.
Up to one in seven women experience postpartum depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
Who is more at risk for having postpartum depression?
Women with a family or personal history of anxiety or mood orders like depression are more at risk for having postpartum depression. Ascension Seton psychiatrist Blair Walker, MD, said those if you fit into this category, check in with your primary care physician, OB-GYN, or a therapist soon after giving birth to be proactive about spotting signs of depression.
Your doctor might use a tool to identify depression called the Edinburg Depression Scale. The Edinburg test asks you to rate how true a statement is for you, such as “I have been so unhappy, I have been crying.”
If untreated, depression in new moms can cause them to stop breastfeeding or abuse or neglect their child, according to the American Association of Pediatrics. “The risk is real,” Walker said. “So it’s really important to check in with your OB-GYN in case you need help.”
What’s the difference between ‘baby blues’ and postpartum depression?
It’s common for new moms to experience stress or feelings of being overwhelmed, lonely, tired or weepy. These feelings are often referred to as the “baby blues.”
But when it’s a more serious mood disorder that doesn’t go away on its own, that’s when postpartum depression may be at play. It can appear days or months after you have your baby, and it can affect any new mom — no matter how difficult or easy your pregnancy went.
Harkins said it’s how women cope with the stress that matters.
“We’re not going to change the set of life stressors,” he said. “But what we can do is help how a person approaches their life stressors through talk therapy or medication when necessary.”
Walker said although some women may be concerned about taking medications while breastfeeding, there are some medications that are safe to take if needed. But whether drugs are needed depends on the individual.
“In general, postpartum depression is typically under-recognized and undertreated,” Walker said. “Talk therapy can be a very good tool for moderate to mild depression.”
What are some signs of postpartum depression?
Walker said depression becomes an emergency situation if a woman has feelings of wanting to hurt herself or the baby. Other symptoms include:
- Feelings of loss of control in life
- Not wanting to take part in daily activities
- Wanting to stay in bed a lot
- Lack of desire to take care of your child
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
How can I help treat my depression?
Taking care of yourself is very important for new moms. Things like sleeping when your baby sleeps, going for daily walks in the sunlight and eating nutritious foods can help, Walker said.
“Losing sleep and generally having higher levels of stress will have greater risk for developing depression symptoms,” she said.
Knowing what is normal as a new mom can be hard. If you are a new mom and struggling with depression, ask for help and be vocal about how you’re feeling. Talk to your primary care provider, OB-GYN, psychiatrist or a counselor to assess what you may need.