Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression Wide-Ranging

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression Wide-Ranging

Article excerpt


LA JOLIA, CALIF. -- More than 20 years ago Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D., then a new mom to a baby girl, found herself hospitalized four different times for stays that lasted 2-3 weeks each time.

"No one knew what was wrong with me," she told an audience at the annual conference of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "I had numerous treatments and saw many doctors, and yet the words 'postpartum depression' were never used. It was a full year after my daughter's birth before I even heard the words 'postpartum depression.'"

Having endured a full year of illness before being diagnosed with depression, "I was in such a fragile state that I continued to relapse for the next 2 years, in and out of the hospital," said Dr. Barnes, a licensed psychotherapist at the Center for Postpartum Health in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "What should have been a very short course of treatment, probably 12-16 weeks, took 3 years out of my life."

Her own experience with postpartum depression illustrates how difficult it can be for clinicians to recognize the illness, which can present in many ways. "Despite the myths that pregnancy is blissful, that women have never felt better, that they've never looked better, about 10%-15% of women are going to experience some kind of depression or anxiety during their pregnancies," Dr. Barnes said. "This is significant, because when it's not treated, we know that those babies are at higher risk for low birth weight, prematurity, the possibility of organ malformation, the possibility of stillbirth, or placental abruption. There is a whole range of consequences when a mom has an untreated depression or anxiety during her pregnancy.

"We also know that the attachment relationship starts in utero. Stress hormones cross the placenta. That has an impact on the developing brain of the fetus."

She made a distinction between the so-called baby blues and postpartum depression. The baby blues, she explained, affects about three-quarters of new mothers and is characterized by symptoms that commonly occur during a menstrual cycle: tearfulness, anxiety, and mood swings. "We consider the baby blues a normal part of postpartum adjustment, but the symptoms are mild and they're transient," she said. "They come up around the third or fourth day post partum, and they're generally gone by about 2-3 weeks from the outset. …

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