10 percent of new moms labor under depression


Boston Herald, April 29, 2008

As many as one in 10 moms might suffer from postpartum depression for a year or more, a condition some experts attribute to pregnancy hormones that cause fatigue and a sense of worthlessness.

"The depression can debilitate them to the point where they are unable to function because they are depressed to the point where they are unable to care for themselves or care for their infant," said Dr. Kimberly Pearson, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School professor. "That's the toll the depression takes on them and their new family."

She said postpartum depression should not be confused with "baby blues," which last for about two weeks and affect up to 75 percent of moms. Postpartum depression can last for a year or longer, causing crying spells, headaches, exhaustion, anxiety, fatigue, and feelings of restlessness and worthlessness.

In extreme cases, moms may stop eating, have trouble sleeping, or become frantic and paranoid, fearing they will harm their babies. Women who were depressed during or prior to pregnancy are at greater risk, as are women who already had a bout with postpartum depression during a previous pregnancy, Pearson said.

Harold Bursztajn, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said postpartum depression can be brought on by a biochemical change, issues with body image and new responsibilities as a mom. The best advice for moms and worried families? Seek help, he said.

"The key is to get an evaluation," he said. "Don't try to answer the questions yourself. Go and get some help."