Actress Hayden Panettiere recently brought attention to postpartum depression when she battled it as Juliette Barnes in ABC's "Nashville" and then in real life too! Registered Nurse, Jeanne Faulkner, author of "Common Sense Pregnancy" and host of the podcast "Common Sense Pregnancy and Parenting," stopped to share important new information about the mood disorder.
Postpartum Depression (PPD)
PPD in Nashville
Post partum Depression is having an important moment in the spotlight, thanks to actress Hayden Panettiere and Juliette Barnes, the country singer she portrays on Nashville. After Juliette has a baby, she spirals into increasingly destructive behavior. She ditches her baby and husband to go on tour and her mood, behavior and life get wilder and unstable with every episode. Eventually, she's diagnosed with postpartum depression and gets the help she needs. Similarly, Hayden Panettiere suffered with postpartum depression last year and she's been fairly open to talking publicly about her experience.
Just last week, the US Preventive Services Task Force, (an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine) published their recommendation about screening for depression in adults. They recommend screening women for depression both during pregnancy and after delivery.
The Task Force estimates that about 1 in 10 women suffer depression during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after delivery.
The CDC has higher estimates: 8 to 19% of women report having frequent postpartum depressive symptoms.
What is postpartum depression?
It's a mood disorder where mothers report a range of symptoms like sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion, to the point where it impacts their ability to care for themselves or their baby.
While a certain amount of moodiness, fatigue, anxiety and uncertainty are par for the course for almost every new mother, for women with PPD, their symptoms may be severe, unrelenting or particularly destructive. They may feel hopeless, angry, irritable, overly worried or anxious, disinterested in their baby or their normal activities. They might be convinced that they can't meet their baby's needs or think their baby doesn't love them.
What causes postpartum depression?
There's no one single specific cause for postpartum depression. It's likely triggered by some combination of personal medical and mental health factors with the barrage of new mom issues that are just part of new parenthood, like sleep deprivation, hormonal changes and the physical discomforts of the postpartum period. Then of course, there are social factors like lack of mental health services, lack of workplace structures that support women financially as they transition to motherhood, and cultural factors like the isolation and loneliness many women experience during their first months home with their babies. Then, of course there's the anxiety almost all working mothers feel as they navigate their maternity leave knowing they'll be going back to work and leaving their baby way before they're ready. There are financial worries as families try to do without mom's income and try to afford daycare. These issues can come together to trigger chemical changes in the brain that may lead to PPD. In the worst cases, mothers may consider harming themselves or their babies and some even carry plans out.
Spoiler alert: Juliette Barnes considered suicide but was saved at the last minute.
How can moms make sure they don't get it?
PPD is not caused by something a mother does or doesn't do. Some women might be more vulnerable to PPD than others, especially if they have a history of depression or bipolar disorder, alcohol or drug abuse, or they've recently gone through a stressful life event like a job loss, death of a loved one, domestic violence, or personal illness, or if they had medical complications with their pregnancy or birth. It affects women of every age, race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, and education level. Any woman can get it. Even women like Hayden and Juliette who seemingly have all the support in the world can experience PPD. We simply don't have a one-size-fix-all cause or cure for this condition.
How is PPD different from baby blues?
Baby blues is the temporary tired, teary, emotional or blah state that about 80 percent of new moms report experiencing. It generally lasts a week or two, is relatively mild and usually goes away on its own. PPD on the other hand is more severe, lasts longer and usually requires treatment to recover from it.
How is it treated?
Because of the severity of the symptoms, postpartum depression usually requires treatment with counseling, medication or both, plus extra focus on nutrition, exercise, emotional support, stress reduction and rest.
What's Post Partum Psychosis?
PPP is a rare illness that's different and more severe than PPD. It happens only in .1% of cases or 1 in 1000 births. It includes hallucinations, severe mood swings and other symptoms.
We hear about the worst cases of PPD or Post Partum Psychoses, when they hit the news like - when mothers who've recently given birth do something outrageous, like drive their van full of kids into the ocean or like Juliette - freak out, get loaded and try and kill themselves. More often though, women with PPD suffer more subtle symptoms than Juliette did and too often, they don't get the help they need. There's still a lot of stigma around mental health and mothers feel bad for not bonding with their baby or for not feeling happy about their motherhood or for not being their version of a perfect mom.
Can pregnant women and new moms take antidepressants?
The current thinking is that for moms who are really depressed, the benefits of taking antidepressant medication far outweigh the risks, especially if she's potentially at risk for harming herself.