Women and Mental Health

By Elizabeth Howell; Marjorie Bayes | Go to book overview

25
Psychological Reactions
of Postpartum Women

ELIZABETH HOWELL

Probably most women in this culture experience some feelings of helplessness, depression, and/or emotional disorganization in the first few months after giving birth. Other symptoms that often occur during this period are restlessness, confusion, insomnia, and episodic crying. While estimates of the actual prevalence of postpartum psychological reactions vary considerably, one recent estimate indicates that four-fifths of the total of new mothers experience some psychological distress postpartum while one-sixth of the total experience distress serious enough to require professional care (Della Quadri and Breckenridge, n.d.). In the first three months postpartum, women experience a four- to-fivefold increase in the risk of emotional disorder, particularly of psychosis (Melges 1968; Pugh et al. 1963).

Surprisingly, the milder postpartum reactions have received relatively little attention in the psychiatric literature. Until quite recently, the literature has focused on postpartum psychosis or severe depression and the effect on the infant of maternal behavior (Grossman et al., 1980). Even more surprising in consideration of their relatively common occurrence, there is currently no classification in DSM-III of non-psychotic postpartum distress. Indeed, "The transient mild depression occurring postpartum (the postpartum blues) is so ubiquitous and ostensibly benign that it has not often been deemed worthy of serious study" (Yalom et al., 1968, p. 16). Of course, postpartum psy

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