Postpartum depression: a growing local network of support
By Alison Johnson
Women suffering from postpartum depression often feel very alone. Thankfully, several peer support groups are now up and running in the area.
New mothers can go to Postpartum Support Virginia – www.postpartumva.org – and click on “Where to Go for Help” for a list of free groups throughout the state, including options in Virginia Beach, Newport News and Williamsburg. Each is run by a volunteer who has had experience with depression after childbirth, either personally or with a family member.
The groups can offer struggling new mothers important coping strategies and encouragement, although they are designed to be an addition, not ever a replacement, for other needed therapies such as professional counseling or medication.
“They can see that they’re not alone and that with help they will get well, and that this is a part of being a mother,” for many women, said Dr. Natasha Sriraman, a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk and a board member with Postpartum Support Virginia. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Other available resources include one-on-one phone and email support, informational brochures and help connecting with local medical professionals.
Postpartum depression can occur anytime in a year or more after a baby’s birth. About 15 to 20 percent of new mothers develop symptoms, a figure that can climb past 30 percent for women at higher risk, Dr. Sriraman said.
Many more women experience what’s known as “baby blues”, or feeling temporarily exhausted and overwhelmed with the transition to motherhood. Those symptoms, however, generally fade within two weeks, while postpartum depression lingers. The condition interferes with a woman’s ability to care well for her child, make simple decisions or sleep when the baby is sleeping.
Mothers with postpartum depression often feel anxious, hopeless and out of control. Many isolate themselves and struggle with fears that they might harm themselves or their baby. They also experience guilt for all of that, especially for “intrusive thoughts” such as wondering what would happen if they did something dangerous like drop the baby – even if they would never act on those musings.
People of all ages, races, backgrounds and marital status can develop postpartum depression, which involves biological changes after birth that include a dramatic drop in the hormone progesterone. Some women have additional risk factors; the top one is depression during pregnancy. Others are difficult pregnancies, colicky babies, lack of social support, recent life upheavals or crises and personality traits such as perfectionism or trouble adapting to change.
Struggling mothers should get as much sleep as possible (make at least five hours a goal) eat healthy foods, exercise regularly and carve out alone time. Deep breathing, journaling and positive self-talk – This will not last forever; I’m not going crazy; This is a real illness and can be treated; I’m doing the best I can; I will feel like myself again – also can be important steps, according to Postpartum Support Virginia.
Mostly, women shouldn’t have to avoid admitting they’re having a problem for fear of being labeled “unfit” as parents, Dr. Sriraman said. On the contrary, mothers who don’t take action risk seriously affecting the health and well-being of their child.
“Our goal with the peer support groups,” she said, “is to make it OK to get help.”