Few New Moms Seek Postpartum Help, Though Many Should

Severe ‘baby blues’ may be a red flag for a deeper problem
Feb 12, 2010 By Alexa Aguilar
Chicago Tribune
Original Story

holding-handsIt’s noon and I’m still in my pajamas, hoping that neither baby will wake up before I finish writing. The house is a mess, the to-do list stretches long. Leaving the house is impossible with the air so frigid.

I’m a little weepy these days, no doubt because it’s been a month since I’ve slept longer than a three-hour stretch. The reason — a daughter born on Dec. 31. She joins a 20-month-old brother and a 12-year-old sister.

Becoming a mom, first-time or otherwise, can wreak havoc on your lifestyle, your home, your relationships and your identity. It’s no wonder that for many women, the change doesn’t automatically translate to hours blissfully gazing at your newborn.

Postpartum Depression vs Baby Blues

I’m not talking the ‘baby blues,’ the two-week period after birth when many exhausted moms feel sad and teary. No, for some new mothers it’s something deeper and lingering — postpartum depression and anxiety.

Help is available. Hospitals and doctors are much more likely than before to recognize the problems and offer resources, but not enough moms are reaching out to them.

Postpartum Screening Needed

Sarah Allen, a clinical psychologist and chair of Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, was shocked when she came to the United States from England 13 years ago and saw how little attention postpartum depression received. There are headline-grabbing cases — such as Melanie Blocker Stokes, who jumped from a building in 2001 after her baby was born. And while they generate awareness, Allen worries that they also cultivate fear among women who think that their anxiety and depression will lead to psychosis, which is extremely rare.

Allen wants preventative screening, so an at-risk woman can line up help before her baby arrives. Risk factors include a history of depression or anxiety or suffering from premenstrual syndrome.

Many Moms Suffer Postpartum Depression Alone

Pauline Gekas, a marriage and family therapist, leads a postpartum support group for TriCity Family Services in Geneva. She says it helps to be among others who are struggling rather than at a playgroup or other setting where moms seemingly are dealing with motherhood with aplomb.

Some new moms struggle with loneliness and a new identity, she says. Others feel marooned in their house, missing their families, their old friends, their former co-workers. Others are perfectionists who don’t understand what happened to their orderly life.

Though experts estimate that 20 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression or anxiety, Gekas’ group usually numbers around five women. Do the math — many women are suffering alone.

Moms Need to Reach Out for Help

I’ve been thinking a lot about my fellow new mothers. At the hospital, we were all handed information about the warning signs of postpartum depression or anxiety. But on cloudy, snowy days, when my newborn wails and my toddler acts stir-crazy, and another day passes where I was too tired to talk to my husband, I wonder how they’re faring.

I hope that they have a friend to bring by a meal, a relative they can chat with by phone and a partner who watches the baby while they go for a walk or grab a cup of coffee, alone. And I hope they consider a group like Gekas’, which meets weekly, or go online to a group such as www.ppdsupportpage.com.

There, some women who’ve come through the tough early days, post about the sadness and guilt they felt over not enjoying their babies. Others are still in the grips, such as one mom who posted, “I’m so tired of being sick. I’m praying so hard for strength. I just feel so alone. So pathetic. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Life doesn’t have to feel like that. It’s better to get help, and soon.


==> Take the postpartum depression and anxiety quiz to find out if you are at risk

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