There are four million live births each year in the USA. Nearly 800,000 – 20% - of these mothers will experience an episode of major or minor depression within the first 3 months postpartum. Although Postpartum Depression (PPD) is such a prevalent condition, it is extremely undertreated. Mothers tend to feel shame because of the societal norms that say this is supposed to be the most joyful time of their lives. This means that mothers who need help aren’t seeking it out because of the fear of societal response. Mothers aren’t alone in how they are feeling. A little-known fact is that men themselves often experience depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period, with estimated prevalence rates of, respectively 8.4% and 10.4%. Male depression is particularly high when women are experiencing PPD, ranging from 24 to 50%. Women tend to be at a greater risk for PPD when they experience past depression, stressful life events, poor marital relationship, or have poor social support. Studies have shown that women with a history of postpartum depressive symptoms are more prone to have subsequent depressive symptoms and experience illness.
Not only does this condition greatly affect the mother in these ways, but it may also have serious consequences on relational, parenting and infant outcomes. The offspring of mothers who experience PPD are at risk for disturbances in development. Cognitive and behavioral problems have been observed among children to post-natal depressed mothers. Behavior in children of mothers four years post-partum were reported to be more problematic. There have also been findings of effects on child cognitive development such as language and IQ.
There are many ways to address the issues associated with PPD. Step one is seeking help from a trained professional. Psychotherapy can give mothers the tools to increase parenting efficacy which will result in a diminishment of negative self-attributions. The clinician will also be able to work on an improved sense of social support though sessions, find ways to get better maternal sleep, and develop more effective parenting skills leading to a more responsive and rewarding baby, and increased attachment to infant. There is also evidence that couple-related treatment may be protective against the development of perinatal depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as be an effective way to treat women’s PPD. Ask your clinician if they feel this would be an effective and appropriate way to help treat your symptoms.