We spoke with Kirkland’s EvergreenHealth Medical Center’s perinatal mood disorder care specialist, nurse practitioner Patricia Morgan, to dispel some myths. And, more importantly, what people can do to support a loved one who might be suffering.
Tell us about the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression. At what point should people question whether they need professional help?
There is a spectrum of moods and feelings that accompany an event as enormous as the birth of a child. Baby blues will generally happen in the first two postpartum weeks. Generally, good self-care and loving care from friends and family, some good food, and some restorative sleep will result in feeling much better. If it is beyond a few weeks after the birth of the baby, and symptoms do not go away or become more intense, they might start to interfere with getting through the day (and night). This is the time to reach out for help.
What are some common myths about perinatal mood disorders?
They only affect the person who has given birth. We know that fathers can also experience adaptation to their new role, and approximately one in 10 will experience a mood disorder.
This is about depression.
Not true. We now call this Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, as we know it can happen anytime during the pregnancy or postpartum year. Common diagnosis includes anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder. Common symptoms include irritability, feeling overwhelmed, change in eating patterns, disinterest in things you normally enjoy, not feeling connected to the baby, or feeling overly concerned about the baby. You may hear about postpartum psychosis in the news, but it is very rare. When it happens, it is an emergency and must be treated immediately. Yet, it seems better known than the fact that symptoms may totally present as anxiety.
“It won’t happen to me.”
While there are some who may be at more risk, the simple fact is this can happen when you don’t expect it to at all.
It only starts after a baby is born.
Some who are pregnant begin to experience mood changes that interfere with daily life. Any significant concern about mood during pregnancy that does not respond to self-care, sleep, and good nutrition, should be brought to the attention of a provider.
That there is no need to treat it and that it will go away on its own.
We know that the sooner a problem is recognized and the right help is in place, it is better all-around for the family. We know a great more about this issue than we did 20 years ago. The combination of talking to other parents and getting counseling is what many people need to feel better. Others may need help managing sleep, managing breastfeeding, managing the household, and maybe even medication to assist in feeling better.
Medications for anxiety and depression are not compatible with breastfeeding.
Many medications are safe and compatible to take while breastfeeding.
What is one thing you’d wish for everyone to understand about perinatal mood disorders and/or the people who experience them?
That this is a treatable problem. You do not have to suffer. Allow yourself the gift of acceptance and help if it happens.