Every woman who has had a child has seen the literature. You get pamphlets and information sheets from your OB/GYN, from your hospital or birthing center, from your pediatrician. Each time, you are reminded of the signs of postpartum depression such as lack of appetite, inability to sleep and feelings of extreme isolation.
So, let’s say you recognize the signs and you know you are suffering more than just a slight hormonal shift. Or, you get an official diagnosis and your doctor says you are suffering from postpartum depression. What the literature doesn’t always tell you is what you can do once you have the diagnosis. There are options and support out there, you just have to take advantage of them.
As many as 25 percent of women who have given birth are believed to suffer from postpartum within the first year after delivery, but it’s still a condition that can be difficult to identify. Many women say it’s hard, even for themselves, to tell what is typical baby blues-type melancholy and what is a condition worth serious concern. Why? Because some women describe postpartum depression as really dramatic symptoms but others say the symptoms are the same as everyone else’s, just … more. More tired, more anxious, more angry, more confused, more isolated.
Shorewood mother Rosie Sheinbein describes her postpartum depression as extreme. She says she would find it hard to believe that too many other women have felt worse than she did after each of her three children.
“For me, it actually got down to the point of looking out of the window and wanting to jump out,” Sheinbein says. “It was so intense, I couldn’t see beyond the present time that it would ever get better.”
Sheinbein can remember a dark moment after the birth of her second child. “I remember sitting at the table and having this sinking feeling and I was like, ‘oh no, here it comes,’” she recalls.
Sheinbein tried natural therapies to manage her depression. Eventually, she turned to yoga and that’s where she found real relief. Sheinbein had practiced yoga for years off and on. However, when she tried yoga to deal with her postpartum depression, she felt the need to get serious about it.
“I felt like there was nothing wrong after (taking) a class,” Sheinbein says. “It healed me completely.”
Eventually, Sheinbein trained to become a yoga instructor. She realized practicing yoga every day helped her truly feel better and teaching classes was a great way to do that. She attributes the healing power of yoga to its focus on breathing, an exercise possible to do any time, any where.
“It’s really easy to incorporate into your life in every moment,” Sheinbein says. “The breath relaxes the mind and it affects all the systems in the body, the nervous system, the hormones.”
Rose Eichenhofer, a Mequon counselor and perinatal mood disorder specialist, says women often can’t pinpoint anything in particular but say they just don’t feel right. She says counselors are, in fact, prepared to work with symptoms described simply as “something isn’t right.”
Eichenhofer helped create the support group Beyond the Baby Blues for women suffering from postpartum depression. She says identifying what’s really making you feel bad is the key to getting the right treatment. That requires communication, something some women can find difficult while suffering postpartum depression symptoms.
“Basically, if a woman is feeling that something is going on, talk to someone about it,” Eichenhofer says. “It may just be a lack of sleep and you can make a couple of adjustments and start to feel better. All the research shows women do better with support than in isolation.”
Eichenhofer encourages women who feel like they might be at risk for postpartum depression to talk to and rely on husbands, partners, their own parents and others who can become an active part of the childcare process. You will probably need help, and the people in your life who can provide it need to know just how important it is that you get that help.
“If the symptoms of postpartum depression are there but a woman is hesitant to take medication or can’t get out to take a yoga class, I try to encourage her to get at least four to five hours of sleep, at least once or twice a week,” Eichenhofer says.
As a counselor, Eichenhofer can’t prescribe medication herself, but she always wants to make sure that’s really the best treatment before she sends her patients to a medical doctor. On the other hand, she says there is some benefit to considering medicine early on in the process.
“There’s definitely a serotonin component to postpartum depression,” Eichenhofer explains. “Women actually process medicines more efficiently just after birth and they can feel better within a week instead of the typical six weeks.” She stresses that communication is a key part of the process and it’s very important not to sit with your depression alone. She says women should be sure to tell someone as soon as they get the feeling that “something isn’t right” so they can get it evaluated and find out if they need serious and immediate intervention or if they can help themselves through sleep, support groups and other activities like yoga.
Another therapy to consider is acupuncture. Rebecca Stanska Jankowksi is a licensed acupuncturist at Orchid Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture in Bay View. She works with women throughout their pregnancies but is particularly interested in working with women after they’ve given birth because of the risk of depression.
“In Chinese medicine, the month after birth is referred to as the Golden Month and it’s really time, from a Chinese medicine perspective, where the new mom is supposed to rest and recover and regain her energy and health,” Jankowski says. “In our culture, a lot of women don’t have that opportunity. They have to get back to work or they don’t have the support to take care of baby so mom can take care of herself.”
Jankowski encourages pregnant women to work with an acupuncturist experienced in treating women. She often works with women before they’ve delivered to help alleviate some of the anxiety. After delivery, she says it’s often a good thing to work with women as early as they are able in order to have the most impact in preventing or mitigating symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.
Jankowski says it’s easy to associate the needles of acupuncture with the shots we get as kids but, in fact, they are a totally different kind of needle and it’s not uncommon for patients to fall asleep during treatment-—relaxation that may have its own benefits.
“When it comes to mom and baby health, the healthier mom is feeling, the better that’s going to be for the baby,” Jankowski says.
When trying to evaluate how badly you feel, Eichenhofer says it’s important to remember there is a difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, a rare and serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. “Killing yourself is not rational thinking. Those are the kind of thoughts that when a woman has them, it’s time to get a person to the emergency room immediately,” Eichenhofer cautions.
Whether you choose to treat your depression through natural means, through Eastern medicine or through typical Western medicine, remember that communication is one of the most important parts of the healing process. Talk to people at home if you suspect you don’t feel quite right. Let them help out and take them seriously if they say it’s time to talk to a professional. When you get to a doctor’s or other caregiver’s office, be sure to tell them everything you are experiencing and all the symptoms you feel so you can get effective treatment. •
It can be helpful to keep a close eye out for the signs of depression when other factors exist. Below are a few factors that can determine a woman’s risk for postpartum depression.
1. Previous history of depression
2. Major stressors like a death in the family, relationship problems or job loss.
3. Poor support during your pregnancy and after
4. If your pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted
5. If baby is highly demanding or suffering from chronic problems like colic
Help is here
If you think you (or someone you know) might be suffering postpartum depression and you want to get help or learn more about what you can do to feel better, here are some helpful resources:
Postpartum Support International has a wealth of resources about risk factors, symptoms and treatment as well as links to local resources.
The Maternal and Child Health Hotline provides 24-hour assistance in Wisconsin with referrals to agencies who can help mothers suffering postpartum depression.
La Causa Crisis Nursery is the only 24-hour, 365 day a year nursery of its kind in southeastern Wisconsin. The nursery provides short-term care for children from birth to 12 years when parents have an emergency, are in serious stress or need respite care—it’s all free.