Postpartum depression: Are you at risk?

Everyone has their fears, and mine is postpartum depression -- even though I am only twelve weeks pregnant. How common is this disorder and who is likely to get it?

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Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

It is generally agreed that depression during the postpartum period falls into three categories: "the blues," depression and psychosis. In general, the first two can be successfully treated without inpatient treatment.

Postnatal depression affects about 10 percent of women in the early weeks postpartum, with episodes typically lasting two to six months. There has been much research trying to prove a biological basis to postpartum depression. Inadequate hormones, thyroid dysfunction and immune changes brought on by stress are examples of the most popular theories.

If one tries to find a predictor for postpartum depression, the presence of "the blues" in the period immediately postpartum may be related to the subsequent development of postpartum depression. Obstetric factors are also important in a vulnerable subgroup of women -- those with a history of depressive disorder or complications during delivery are associated with an increased rate of postnatal depression. Furthermore, the occurrence of stressful life events in general, such as unemployment, marital conflict and the absence of personal support have all consistently been found to raise the risk. Oftentimes, women with postpartum depression have described resentment that their lives have changed so drastically compared with their partners.

Women place high expectations on themselves. The belief that they should manage all physical chores, and emotional demands of a family, is a dominant one in our society. When expectations about maternal abilities to "take care of everything" fall short, new mothers may become overwhelmed and feel defeated. Everyone has a mental image of the "perfect baby," the "perfect mate" and the "perfect family." Seldom are these fantasies fulfilled. Often, women are competent in other roles outside of the family. In the postpartum period, when roles and family constellations change, it is a time of disequilibrium.

Odds are that you will not suffer postpartum depression; however, thinking about these issues and discussing them with your partner, will give you an added advantage. Having a plan in place to help both partners adjust to the new baby can help offset some, but not all, of the risk.

For additional information:
Depression after Delivery, Inc. (1-800-944-4PPD)

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