Postpartum depression not uncommon, key is seeking help as soon as possible

Dr. Valentina Vrtikapa of the Blessing Behavioral Center says more than half of mothers will experience some form of the “blues” after delivery. “But (that feeling) usually goes away.” (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jun. 23, 2012 1:48 am Updated: Jul. 15, 2012 1:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The birth of a baby can bring incredible joy to a family, but can also cause an unexpected range of emotions from the mother -- even severe bouts of depression and, in the worst cases, forms of psychosis.

Dr. Valentina Vrtikapa of the Blessing Behavioral Center says more than half of mothers will experience some form of the "blues" after delivery. "But (that feeling) usually goes away," she said.

When it does not, and when it builds into deeper-rooted problems, is when treatment is needed.

"Baby blues" commonly include mood swings and crying spells, and those begin to disappear quickly. But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting problem known as postpartum depression. Sometimes an extreme form of postpartum depression, referred to as "postpartum psychosis," will develop.

"Many women are worried about the stigma of not being a good mom, or feel people will think that, if they seek help for postpartum depression," Vrtikapa said. "That help is usually a combination of therapy, medication and support."

Postpartum depression is not a character flaw or a weakness, according to information provided by the Mayo Clinic. It is simply a complication of giving birth, and there is no single cause. Physical, emotional and lifestyle factors may all play a role.

Physical changes could include a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by the thyroid gland may also may drop sharply, which can leave a person feeling tired, sluggish and depressed. Changes in your blood volume, blood pressure, immune system and metabolism can be further stresses that contribute to fatigue and mood swings.

Emotional factors could result from a lack of sleep, making the handling of even minor problems troublesome. Anxiety can also result and fester in such ways as not feeling attractive or having lost control over your life.

"Younger moms may be more prone to this, so may those women who had a difficult pregnancy and have had psychiatric issues in their history, especially those who may have been depressed or suicidal," Vrtikapa said.

In addition, the Mayo Clinic said some women may be genetically more vulnerable than others to postpartum depression. But it's not clear whether hereditary factors that increase a woman's risk of postpartum depression are different from those that increase her risk of depression overall.

"In postpartum depression, the symptoms a woman may have had with the ‘blues' become more permanent," Vrtikapa said. "They become worried about everything. They can even become angry ... and feel just blah and lousy."

If the postpartum depression reaches psychosis stage, it will likely happen within the first two weeks after delivery. The signs and symptoms of this are more severe and could include such things as confusion, disorientation and paranoia.

"This is the more severe form of postpartum depression, and the woman may hear voices and even consider hurting herself or the child," Vrtikapa said. "She needs help immediately."

Vrtikapa stressed there is nothing to be embarrassed about when the troublesome feelings emerge.

"There is nothing wrong with seeking and receiving help," she said.