The Many Faces of Maternal Depression

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Since Mother’s Day is this month, I’d like to touch on a topic that can be hard to discuss but one that hits close to home for many moms. While this nationally recognized holiday is usually associated with brunches, flowers and family gatherings, it is sometimes met with sadness, painful memories and depression. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that May is National Maternal Depression Awareness Month.

Maternal depression is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions that affect women before, during and after pregnancy. While certainly not a one-size-fits-all illness, maternal depression includes prenatal and postpartum depression and depression associated with the identity of motherhood and the experience of raising small children.

Let’s take a closer look at the various forms of maternal depression, along with their risk factors and treatment options:

  • Antepartum Depression – Prenatal depression, or antepartum depression, can occur months before your baby enters the world. Unfortunately, this condition is not always understood or accepted. After all, pregnancy is supposed to be a joyful experience, right? Although the causes for antepartum depression are not always clear, certain factors can contribute, such as a history of family depression, a previous miscarriage, infertility issues or abuse.

Interestingly, prenatal depression is actually one of the most common pregnancy complications. The illness occurs when hormonal changes in the body affect chemicals in the brain. While symptoms vary greatly from woman to woman, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing the following: persistent sadness, lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy, anxiety, changes in eating or sleeping habits, suicidal thoughts or guilt.

  • Postpartum Depression – Postpartum depression (PPD) typically occurs within the first year after the baby is born. While many women experience common “baby blues” within the first two weeks after delivery, postpartum depression affects 10 to 20 percent of new moms and manifests itself in more pronounced ways. Although symptoms like exhaustion, mood changes and anxiety are common for anyone caring for a newborn, women with postpartum depression can experience feelings of inadequacy, an inability to bond with your baby, extreme worrying, suicidal thoughts, confusion, anger, irritability, fear, rage, resentment or hopelessness.

If left undiagnosed, postpartum depression can have lasting negative effects on you and your child. Thankfully, it’s treatable. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend medication, therapy or support groups.

  • Stay-At-Home Moms Depression – Mothers of young children—especially those who stay home full time—are extremely susceptible to depression. According to a Gallup survey on the topic, 28 percent of stay-at-home moms reported feelings of depression as opposed to 17 percent of working moms. Why? The reasons vary and are largely situational, but many women cite loneliness, lack of recognition, boredom, isolation and lack of earned income as potential reasons.

Being home all day with little kids can be mentally and physically exhausting. But if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to talk to someone and to take care of yourself. To help make your mental health a priority, start exercising, spending time outdoors, investing in friendships or spending time with your spouse.

Across the board, depression, when left untreated, wreaks havoc on our lives and on the lives of those around us. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, seek professional help. Talking to a friend, family member or doctor is an important first step to your recovery.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.