Coping with Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy
How Support, Coping Skills Can Reduce Postpartum Depression Risk
Postpartum depression is a serious condition, but there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of suffering from it.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Becoming a parent is one of life's great joys, but it can also be a stressful and even scary time.
It's certainly not unusual for a new mother to experience the "baby blues" — feeling sad, overwhelmed or moody — and the symptoms usually resolve on their own after a week or two.
But that's not the case for between 10 and 15 percent of new moms, who experience something much more serious than the blues.
Postpartum depression is a chemical imbalance with symptoms that include deep feelings of sadness, doubt or guilt starting within the first month or two after childbirth.
Women suffering from the condition may experience panic attacks, difficulty sleeping and troubling thoughts of harming themselves or their child. But it's treatable, just like clinical depression, says Bobbie Posmontier, CNM, PhD, practicing obstetrical nurse and assistant professor in the doctoral nursing program at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The condition requires medical attention, through counseling, medication or a combination of both.
What causes postpartum depression? Genetics, emotions, hormonal shifts, and lifestyle factors all play a role.
But there are some simple, practical steps that a new mother can take to prevent it. Parijat Deshpande, MS, a psychology lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, and marriage and family consultant in Fremont, CA, offers the following coping tips for new mothers:
- Ask for and accept help from family and friends.Allow others to help with meal preparation, chores, and caring for your other children. Ask your partner or visitors to watch the baby so you can shower, dress, and take time for yourself.
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation can mimic symptoms of depression. Nap when your baby naps and ask your partner to help with overnight feedings.
- Be mindful not to pressure yourself. Notice how often you are "shoulding" yourself and correct those thoughts to be more positive.
- Avoid the comparison trap. Find what makes you and your family happy and don’t compare yourself to others. There are many right ways to parent, and once you find what works best for you, you’ll feel some relief.
- Connect with others. Be honest with your loved ones and let them know how you feel. Connecting with other new mothers who know what you’re going through can be an enormous help.
According to a 2013 study, how much social support a mother receives — and how early on during her pregnancy — may also contribute to the onset of postpartum depression.
The study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, found that women with strong social support networks during their pregnancy had lower levels of a certain stress hormone — pCRH (placental corticotropin-releasing hormone) — which made them less likely to develop postpartum depression.
Researchers evaluated the social support systems and measured hormone levels of 210 pregnant women during weeks 19, 29, and 37 of pregnancy as well as at eight weeks after childbirth.
Women who received the greatest amount of family support during pregnancy had lower levels of pCRH and significantly fewer depressive symptoms postpartum. The inverse was also true: The weaker the support system, the greater the increases in pCRH and symptoms of postpartum depression.
“Our results, and those of other scientists, suggest that low or absent support is a significant risk factor for postpartum depression, and that strong support is a protective factor,” according to lead author Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, postdoctoral scholar in psychology at UCLA’s National Institute of Mental Health and fellow at UCLA’s Institute of Society and Genetics.
Postpartum depression is a serious medical condition that can pose a threat to a mother and her baby. But friends and family can help expectant mothers cope with the stresses of pregnancy.
If a new mom still shows signs of postpartum depression, remember that there are effective treatments available to help her through what should be one of the happiest times of her life.
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