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Life Kit: Living With Postpartum Depression


An estimated 1 in 7 women struggle with depression during pregnancy and in the year after childbirth. NPR's Life Kit team has some tips on how to recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression and where to look for help. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee has more.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: For Meghan Reddick, it started after she gave birth to her son last May, when she was struggling to breastfeed.

MEGHAN REDDICK: I would cry when I was feeding him. Every time I fed him formula, I felt guilty. I felt like I was a failure.

CHATTERJEE: And she felt disconnected from her baby. Whenever her husband was home, she would hand their son over to him and retreat to another room.

REDDICK: The second I had a chance where I wasn't holding him, I could go to my room and cry. And I probably couldn't count how many hours a day I cried.

CHATTERJEE: She struggled to get through each day.

REDDICK: I would do the bare minimum that I had to do. I would shower, but I only showered because I knew I needed to shower. I would lay in bed but not sleep. I don't believe I took care of myself.

CHATTERJEE: And those are some classic symptoms of postpartum depression, says psychiatrist Jennifer Payne.

JENNIFER PAYNE: What I tend to look for are women who are, you know, barely getting themselves together and taking care of the baby.

CHATTERJEE: Payne directs the Women's Mood Disorder Center at Johns Hopkins University.

PAYNE: Many women when they're depressed have low mood - can't get out of bed, have trouble concentrating, trouble eating properly, don't sleep well.

CHATTERJEE: She says anger can also be a symptom. Many women also struggle with anxiety.

PAYNE: Anxiety disorders are very common in pregnancy as well, and those can look like generalized anxiety or having panic attacks.

CHATTERJEE: Or non-stop worries about the health and safety of the baby. Payne says if any of these symptoms last for two weeks or more, it's important to seek out treatment. A good place to start, she says, is with an OB-GYN, a pediatrician or even a primary care physician. And, she adds, be honest with your doctor about symptoms.

PAYNE: You know, I'm feeling depressed. I'm really struggling. I can't sleep when the baby is sleeping - but just being very concrete and clear with the doctor that there is a problem.

CHATTERJEE: A doctor can refer you to talk therapy and prescribe anti-depressants, which are considered safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Payne says women should discuss their options with their provider because treatment will look different for everybody. Another place to look for help is a nonprofit called Postpartum Support International.

ANN SMITH: A family, a mom, a grandmother, a dad, a friend can call and say, I'm worried about myself, I'm worried about my wife, what have you.

CHATTERJEE: Ann Smith is the president of the board of the organization, which connects individuals with local providers who have experience treating postpartum depression and anxiety. Smith encourages people to call their help line.

SMITH: That number is 1-800-944-4PPD, which is 4773.

CHATTERJEE: Or text them at 503-894-9453. A trained volunteer will call back within 24 hours. As for Meghan Reddick, she eventually went to her OB-GYN for help and was prescribed an antidepressant. Her doctor also told her that she needed to get more sleep. She began to feel better within a couple of weeks. The disconnect she felt from her son is now long gone.

REDDICK: He smiles at me, and I melt. Now I'm worried I'm going to love him too much and spoil him (laughter), and he'll turn out to be a - you know, a giant brat.

CHATTERJEE: Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.

FADEL: For more tips about dealing with postpartum depression, check out NPR's Life Kit podcast at npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, with a focus on mental health. In addition to writing about the latest developments in psychology and psychiatry, she reports on the prevalence of different mental illnesses and new developments in treatments.
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