Postpartum Basics: The Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

One of the problems with dealing with postpartum depression is that even in this age of supposed openness, many people still attach a stigma to any symptoms that can be classified as mental-as opposed to physical-illness. Some of my patients feel that they are weak if they experience any emotional vulnerability or if they dare to admit it to anyone. I try to assure them that a certain degree of emotional vulnerability or difficulty after childbirth is to be expected, and that even if the difficulty becomes excessive and warrants the help of a therapist, it doesn't mean they are "bad" or "weak" mothers.

The Superwoman syndrome can play an insidious role here; recently a patient admitted to me that she'd been depressed for five months after the birth of her baby. I was astonished. " Why didn't you call me?" I asked. " I was embarrassed," she said. I knew that if she'd had any physical complaints-pain or bleeding or an infection of any kind-she wouldn't have hesitated to pick up the telephone. But because her distress was emotional, she felt ashamed.

Obstetricians are very sympathetic to the problems of new mothers, and this includes problems that may in the long run be outside our providence, such as psychiatric concerns. But we want to know if a patient is experiencing distress, so that we can help direct her toward the help she needs. Postpartum depression responds well to certain psychiatric drugs and sometimes to therapy; if you are experiencing more than your share of distress, you should definitely inform your doctor.

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