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Significant life changes can cause increased mental health struggles. Switching jobs, moving across the country, the death of a loved one or ending a long-term relationship are all changes that can prompt periods of depression. 

Childbirth, a tremendous change in the life of a mother, is no exception. 

While up to 80% of women report an underlying sadness termed the “baby blues,” the statistic for new mothers experiencing clinical levels of postpartum depression is closer to 20%. Treatment for the wide range of emotional changes after childbirth is imperative and severely lacking.

 

What Is Postpartum Depression?

It’s helpful to think of postpartum depression as one point on the spectrum. This spectrum stretches from the “baby blues” to the rare extreme of postpartum psychosis. While the majority of women land closer to “baby blues,” it’s important to take all symptoms and states seriously. 

Factors contributing to postpartum depression include: 

  • Physical demands of caring for a newborn;
  • Lifestyle learning curve;
  • Hormonal imbalance;
  • Emotional tolls of motherhood.

Most cases involve imbalances of both body and mind. The estrogen and progesterone hormones both significantly decrease after birth, and the absence of these hormones can contribute to feelings of sluggishness, exhaustion and sadness. In addition, feelings of inadequacy, tiredness and identity confusion all complicate the emotional landscape.

 

Why Are Women Receiving Inadequate Treatment?

Unfortunately, access to medical care does not guarantee the proper treatment of postpartum depression. One contributing factor of inadequate care is the condition’s sheer complexity. Furthermore, several elements of care can complicate the treatment process. For example, many mothers are hesitant to try antidepressants because some medications can be harmful to breastfeeding babies. In these circumstances, providers can help guide and counsel the patient through different options for the most effective, personalized treatment. 

In addition to physical treatment and medication, mental health counseling also offers support. The more widely-used therapeutic approach is cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves one-on-one appointments with a counselor to help the patient identify and understand harmful thought and behavior patterns.

The second kind of therapy many women use is called interpersonal psychotherapy. Over 12 to 16 weeks, the patient meets with a counselor who walks her through understanding four different areas: grief, role transitions, interpersonal disputes and interpersonal deficits. 

In addition to logistical issues, some women have difficulty getting adequate care due to their ethnicity. Research suggests that postpartum depression is more likely to occur in women of color. Treatment for these women may be complicated by the cultural stigma surrounding mental health or cultural misunderstandings between these new mothers and their healthcare providers. This risk is exceptionally high among immigrants.

Increasing awareness and education of postpartum depression can shed light on the necessity of accessible care. Fortunately, there are already some established care options to build upon.

 

What Does Adequate Care Look Like?

Many healthcare providers specialize in treating postpartum depression, and most new mothers do make a full recovery. The success rate for women receiving treatment is 80%. The problem is not ineffective treatments but barriers to receiving that treatment.

 

A Parting Reminder

The more we understand the symptoms and causes of postpartum depression, the better we can recognize it in our friends and family. If we’re willing to have honest conversations with new mothers and help them find treatment strategies that are right for them, they stand an excellent chance of moving beyond their symptoms and thriving as parents.

Nathan Pipkin
Nathan Pipkin