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Surprising Time for Depression

Many moms don’t realize that depression is a common problem during pregnancy as well. Find out how to identify the signs of depression and where to seek help.

Not long ago, people didn't talk publicly about postpartum depression (or PPD); they suffered in silence. But then Brooke Shields opened up about her struggle with PPD and how antidepressants saved her life; it was a brave effort to help other women feeling the same way. Soon after, she was slammed by Tom Cruise who carelessly said she could cure it with vitamins and exercise. The public was outraged, as was Shields. She responded with an OP-ED piece in the New York Times that brought even MORE attention to the issue:

I couldn't bear the sound of Rowan crying, and I dreaded the moments my husband would bring her to me. I wanted her to disappear. I wanted to disappear. At my lowest points, I thought of swallowing a bottle of pills or jumping out the window of my apartment.

And comments like those made by Tom Cruise are a disservice to mothers everywhere. To suggest that I was wrong to take drugs to deal with my depression, and that instead I should have taken vitamins and exercised shows an utter lack of understanding about postpartum depression and childbirth in general.

If any good can come of Mr. Cruise's ridiculous rant, let's hope that it gives much-needed attention to a serious disease.

Thankfully, much has been done to bring the issue of PPD to the forefront. But most people don’t realize that depression is a common problem during pregnancy as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 13% of pregnant women and new mothers have depression.

The bad news is that if depression goes untreated during pregnancy it can raise the risk of problems with the pregnancy and induce premature delivery, which in turn leads low-birth-weight babies. The good news – especially for new or soon-to-be moms – there is help.

Virtua licensed clinical social worker and certified child-life specialist, Alice Jannini, LCSW, CCLS, says, “The key is to reach out if you experience any symptoms of depression. You are not alone. Many moms think they have to handle everything themselves and are afraid to share their feelings. It’s difficult to take care of a new baby and it becomes more difficult and exhausting when you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety.”

If you have any of the following symptoms during or after pregnancy for more than two weeks, it’s important to call your obstetrician immediately:

  • Feel sad, hopeless and overwhelmed
  • Cry a lot
  • Have no energy or motivation
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Sleep too little or too much
  • Have trouble focusing or making decisions
  • Feel worthless and guilty
  • Lose interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Withdraw from friends and family

A mother with postpartum depression may also:

  • Be unable to care for herself or her baby
  • Be afraid to be alone with her baby
  • Have negative feelings toward the baby or even think about harming the baby (Although these feelings are scary, they are almost never acted on. Still you should tell your doctor about them right away. The sooner you get help the better.)
  • Worry intensely about the baby, or have little interest in the baby

Jannini continues, “Often, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that may include medication and counseling with a therapist who specializes in PPD. Virtua offers postpartum depression telephone support at 1-866-380-2229, 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. You can also call the New Jersey Speak Up Line at 1-800-328-3838 for information and referrals to support groups and counseling in your area.”

It’s important not to isolate yourself. At Virtua, there’s a group for pregnant women and new mothers who have postpartum depression that meets on a weekly basis. Although it may be difficult to walk into that first meeting, it can be life changing. “The point is to be with other people in a safe environment where you can talk about how you’re feeling,” emphasizes Jannini.

Any woman can become depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad mom – but it is a sign that you need to get help. You and your baby do not have to suffer. Help is just a phone call away.