Are You Or Someone You Love Suffering From Postpartum Depression?
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Date: 6/17/2008 11:29 am
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Hello and welcome.  This is the first of many articles written to educate and answer questions from women in the northwest suburbs about various mental health concerns.  My name is Lisa Irgang, Psy.D. and I am a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a practice in Schaumburg.

For this article, I have decided to focus on Postpartum Depression (PPD) for a few reasons.  Brooke Shields revealing book “Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression” (2005) destigamatized PPD and brought national attention to this very real issue.  One study, published in 2006, showed clear evidence of increased risk for mental health concerns as the result of pregnancy.  In addition to this study, the American Psychological Association (APA) recently released updated facts on the prevalence, affects and treatment of PPD.

What exactly is Postpartum Depression (PPD)? 
PPD is a prolonged period of emotional disturbance, occurring at a time of major life change and increased responsibilities in the care of a newborn infant.  While many women experience periods of depression from time to time, or even suffer from Major Depression Disorder, PPD is different in that it specifically occurs in response to the birth of a new baby.

What are the symptoms of PPD?
Symptoms of depression include:

  1. Feeling sad, irritable or anxious.
  2. Losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy.
  3. Changes in eating patterns (either eating more than usual or less than usual).
  4. Sleeping significantly more or less than usual.
  5. Lack of energy or feeling tired most of the time.
  6. Feeling guilty or worthless.
  7. Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
  8. Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, having a plan for attempting suicide, or attempting to commit suicide.

PPD also has some unique symptoms, including:

  1. Self-blame and fear.
  2. Withdrawal from family and friends.
  3. Thoughts of hurting one’s child.

It might be difficult for family and friends to identify PPD because the symptoms might seem “normal”.  A key element in identifying PPD is how the mother is or is not bonding with the infant.  Does she seem unable to find joy in the baby?  Does she prefer to have others tend to basic needs such as changing clothes, feeding and snuggling?  PPD is different from other types of depression because impairment in functioning is a daily occurrence, which leads to difficulty in providing developmentally appropriate care for the child.

Who is at risk for developing PPD? 
While a change in hormone levels is normal during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, a fluctuation or decline in reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone might be a predictive factor in susceptible women.  Increased susceptibility is associated with previous experiences of depression and anxiety, a family history of depression, marital dysfunction, and younger motherhood.  Acute stressors, whether they are specific to new motherhood (e.g., establishing child care, feeding concerns) or other stressful events (e.g., death of a loved one, severe weather) increase the risk.  Exposure to environmental toxins (e.g., crowding, air pollution), a poor diet, low socioeconomic status, and low levels of social support also contribute to the development of PPD.  Other important factors include a feeling of incongruity between the expectations and reality of motherhood, as well as having an infant with a difficult temperament or colic. These experiences will often erode the mother’s feeling of competence as a caregiver.

Is it possible to prevent PPD?  PPD is preventable.  As with most types of depression, women with PPD tend to want to isolate themselves.  In fact, a key element to prevention and treatment is ensuring social support networking.  If you do not know other women with infants or children consider joining a mom’s group and even research options prior to giving birth.  Many hospitals will sponsor a regular new mom group.  You might also be able to get recommendations from your obstetrician, your church or synagogue, or by searching on-line for local groups (such as Parents Who Care or Mothers of Multiples).  Getting sufficient rest and sleep is also essential, though many new parents feel this is an oxymoron.  The best
way to ensure that you accomplish this goal is to reduce the expectations you have for yourself.  This might mean spending less time cleaning your house, giving yourself more time to write thank you cards, or seeking help from a lactation consultant if you are attempting to breastfeed but seem to be struggling.  Some parenting groups offer support for new mothers by organizing members to provide homemade meals. An important thing to remember is not to give up outside interests.  My experience is that many mothers equate being a “good mother” with self-sacrifice.  Again, the opposite is true.  Mothers who make time to take care of themselves are not only happier mothers, but ultimately teach their children a valuable lesson in self-care.  Try to make time to get together with friends regularly, spend some time alone reading a book or magazine, pack your baby up in the stroller and take a nice walk, or even enjoy dinner out with your husband (and baby).  Most young infants are extremely portable and will sleep anywhere, no matter how noisy.

How is PPD treated?
Adequate and timely mental health care is essential in the treatment of PPD because it has been shown to have significant effects not only on the mother, but the infant, father and other family members.  Research indicates that a variety of effective psychological treatments exist to address PPD, including cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal therapy.

Any feedback on topics of interest is welcomed.  Please feel free to contact me at (224) 622-5842 or via e-mail at

    Postpartum depression [Fact sheet].  (2007). Washington, DC: American Psychological
    Association.  Retrieved from
    Journal of the American Medical Association 296, no 21 (December 6, 2006): 2582-89
    and 2616-18.

Lisa Irgang, Psy. D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
1340 Remington Road, Suite T
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Phone (224) 622-5842

Most Insurance Plans Accepted
Hours: Mon, Tues and Wed 10am - 9pm
           Friday 10am - 6pm



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