Follow Your Heart to Good Health: Heart Disease & Stroke
May 2022 Issue — Pink Prescriptions
Local Obstetrician Clears the Air on Postpartum Depression
By Shirley D. Wilson, M.D.,
You recently gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. You should be feeling excitement and joy, right? Not necessarily. “Many new mothers feel the worry, fatigue or sadness known as the ‘baby blues.’ It’s important to distinguish between that and postpartum depression, a condition which brings on stronger, more debilitating feelings that can linger weeks or months,” says Shirley D. Wilson, M.D., FACOG, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Southeast Georgia Health System. Dr. Wilson practices at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology in Brunswick, Georgia.
When a new mother becomes depressed, she may feel overwhelmed by sadness, irritability, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, or lethargy. She may have trouble concentrating, may eat too much or not enough, may sleep too little or too much. Some women experience unexplained aches and pains. Others spiral into major depression and suicidal thoughts.
Before the pandemic, about one in eight women experienced postpartum depression or PPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After the pandemic started, the numbers increased to one in five, according to a 2022 University of Michigan study published in the BMC Research Notes Journal.
Everyone feels down occasionally, but the feeling usually passes. On the other hand, Dr. Wilson notes that, “Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can interfere with your ability to function. It can last weeks or months.”
What Brings on the Blues:
“The two most important things to understand about postpartum depression are it is not your fault, and it is a real condition that must be taken seriously for your health and the health of your baby,” Dr. Wilson explains.
There are many potential causes of postpartum depression, which is why it can be so difficult to diagnose. “Many doctors believe that rapidly declining estrogen and progesterone levels after a woman gives birth create a dramatic hormonal shift that triggers depression. However, this does not explain why many new mothers undergo those same hormonal changes and do not develop depression.”
Other factors that increase the risk of postpartum depression include:
• Genetic predisposition
• Having a preexisting mood disorder or previous PPD
• Having one or more family members who suffered from PPD
• Physical, emotional and environmental factors
• Sleep deprivation
Certain situations seem to trigger the condition. According to the University of Michigan study, new moms who bottle-fed their baby formula were 92 percent more likely to screen positive for postpartum depression, and 73 percent more likely to experience major depression than mothers who breastfed or bottle-fed with their own milk. Mothers whose babies required neonatal intensive care were 74 percent more likely to develop PPD.
Steps to Recovery:
There are several steps you, your family and friends can take to protect your mental health. Dr. Wilson emphasizes the first step, “Talk to your physician about treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you seek help, the more likely you are to recover quickly.” Treatment may include medication, talk therapy and other forms of support. (Tell your doctor if you are breastfeeding, pregnant or planning to get pregnant again.)
Here are some other ways to defeat or manage postpartum depression:
• Seek help. Downplaying depression makes it worse. Ignoring your feelings may deepen your depression and feelings of shame. Ask your doctor to refer you to a qualified health care provider and/or therapist.
• Lean on your inner circle. Talk to a trusted family member, friend or clergy person about your concerns.
• Tap into Postpartum Support International resources at postpartum.net
• Ask for help with daily chores and childcare. Your partner, parents, in-laws, friends, neighbors, other mothers and your older children are potential helpmates.
• Sleep when you can. When baby naps, grab a few Zs instead of mopping the floor. If possible, ask your partner or another family member to take the 3 a.m. feeding.
• Manage your expectations. It’s noon and you haven’t showered or brushed your teeth? Welcome to new motherhood! Don’t worry, these demanding days will subside. For now, accept your limitations.
• Establish a routine. Newborns require flexibility. Even so, ask your pediatrician about ways to gradually implement a routine or schedule. This will restore a sense of control.
• Get some fresh air, sunshine and exercise. Put your baby in the stroller and walk around the block. Or carve out five or 10 minutes for yoga.
• Make time for self-care. It’s not easy, but it can be as simple as listening to your favorite music or making time for prayer or meditation while you’re feeding your baby.
• Don’t overcommit. A newborn is a full-time job. For example, if your older child is having a birthday, can you delegate the party planning to someone else?
• Eat healthy foods. They are better for your body and your baby if you’re breastfeeding.
• Avoid adult beverages. Alcohol is a depressant that can interfere with sleep.
If you or someone you know expresses thoughts of self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential 24/7 crisis counseling.
Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology welcomes new patients. Appointments can be made by calling 912-466-5636.
Shirley D. Wilson, M.D., FACOG, earned her medical degree from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and completed her residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. A compassionate and dedicated physician, Dr. Wilson provides comprehensive women’s health services, including maternity care for expecting mothers and da Vinci Robotic Surgery. A pillar in the local community, Dr. Wilson is a member of the Southeast Georgia Health System, Inc. Board and Brunswick (GA) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, an organization that partners with the Health System to host Medical Links to Haiti, a seminar designed to familiarize medical professionals and the community on medical and cultural issues affecting Haitians.