Support for mothers with perinatal mood disorders

“Misperceptions abound regarding depression in new mothers,” author  Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett matter-of-factly states in Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Alternatives.

Postpartum depression will go away on its own.

We don’t really know what causes postpartum depression.

These are two of many myths Kendall-Tackett highlights.

In fact, the known causes of postpartum depression (PPD) vary from woman to woman. Of several causes is a negative or traumatic birth experience.

Because experts do in fact know what causes PPD, (better referred to as perinatal mood disorders) suffering women may seek better, more effective treatment.

unnamed“Twenty years ago, I couldn’t find anyone to help these[women],” Dr. Cheryl Zauderer, PhD, CNM, NPP, IBCLC says.

Having worked with women in numerous settings, Dr. Zauderer noticed that while working for an OB/GYN group that “some women were not having a very happy after birth experience.”

The lack of support available and a personal battle with PPD inspired Dr. Zauderer’s journey to ultimately open a private practice in Garden City, NY where she offers therapy and medication for women’s mental health disorders.

This year, Dr. Zauderer and colleagues designed a quality improvement (QI) initiative to identify women’s perceptions of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with newborns immediately following cesarean birth.

Dr. Zauderer will present Cesarean Section Mothers’ Perceptions of Skin to Skin Contact: Qualitative Research Findings Associated with a Quality Improvement Initiative at Healthy Children Project’s 21st International Breastfeeding Conference which details the QI project.

“Women reported positive experiences associated with skin-to-skin contact with their newborns,” the project shows.

Further, “participants also experienced decreased anxiety regarding the health and welfare of their newborns, as compared to a previous cesarean birth experience in which they did not have skin-to-skin contact.”

“A major theme that emerged was that women who had cesarean birth felt that this QI project resulted in a birthing experience comparable to that of mothers who had vaginal deliveries,” it goes on.

Overall, “Skin to skin made a big difference for these women,” Dr. Zauderer says.

The project serves as an impetus for birthing facilities to become Baby-Friendly designated. Early detection and treatment for PMD has good results.

Working to eliminate one known cause of perinatal mood disorders– the negative birth experience– is certainly doable as illustrated by the power of skin to skin contact.

Modern women are up against other challenges that often influence our perinatal mental health.

One of the earliest recorded medical observations of postpartum illness occurred in 400 B.C.,

by Greek physician Hippocrates. []

Since then, mothers’ social support systems have changed drastically, and the number of women suffering from perinatal mood disorders has increased significantly.

Extended families once lived in the same household. Today, new mothers are more likely to be socially isolated.

Dr. Zauderer finds that social isolation triggers many of her clients’ struggles.

She paints the picture of a young, childless woman living in Manhattan with a lively social life. As a new mother, she purchases a home in Long Island. Not many of her friends have children yet, as some of them have chosen to invest themselves in their careers.

New mothers also deal with hormonal fluctuations after birth, and those can intensify if her birth experience was traumatic or unsatisfying.

Dr. Zauderer also points out that women have “the desire to do too much” like running errands shortly after the birth of our babies and returning to work after just six weeks postpartum.

In some cases, women desperately want to return to work very early postpartum based on the way they are feeling, Dr. Zauderer explains.

“There’s a lot of pressure on moms to do it all, lose the baby weight and look their best,” she says.

Dr. Zauderer’s personal battle with PPD shows how perinatal mood disorders may manifest over time and linger.

“I immediately fell into a deep depression,” she remembers after weaning her third child. “For years I suffered and suffered.”

She also reminds us that women with perinatal mood disorders don’t always exhibit depression. Instead women might experience debilitating anxiety or obsessive compulsive behavior. (Find more information here.)

With this in mind, Dr. Zauderer reports that some women don’t realize what’s happening and don’t think to seek help. Other times women are so depressed they can’t even get themselves to a health care provider, so family members and friends need to be proactive.

Dr. Zauderer finds that in these cases, some mothers are more receptive to treatment than others. After treatment though, most mothers report feeling much better.

“I didn’t know how bad I felt until I started feeling better,” many women state.

Dr. Zauderer is currently writing a book, a comprehensive guide for new, postpartum mothers. It will cover the first six to eight weeks of the postpartum period. Watch for it next winter!

Register for the upcoming International Conference and learn more about Dr. Zauderer’s work.

Click here for a guide to postpartum support.


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