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Postpartum Depression: More than the “Baby Blues”

May 23, 2011

BOSTON - Having a baby can be a joyous time, but some new moms get more from the stork than they bargained for: unexpected feelings of sadness and anxiety.

Such feelings are normal, according to Alison Palmer, a perinatal mental health nurse coordinator at Elliot Hospital, Manchester, N.H. They are caused by a big dip in the new mother's hormone levels, she explains. Often referred to as "the baby blues," they usually diminish after a couple of weeks.

However, she warns, almost 20 percent of Massachusetts moms suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), a condition that can be a lot more serious and longer-lasting, if left untreated.

"With postpartum depression, the symptoms can include crying frequently, anxiety, being unable to sleep when you're given the opportunity to or sleeping too much. If your appetite's being affected, you may have really diminished appetite or stress eating and overeating."

In extreme cases, a mother can have intrusive and obsessive thoughts or can feel like she wants to harm herself or her baby, Palmer says. Treatment includes emotional, mental and physical components, such as talk therapy, support groups and medication, she explains.

Many women can feel ashamed or afraid to reach out for help, Palmer adds. Others, like Tara DeTore, a mother of two, don't realize they have PPD or that it could even happen to them.

DeTore says she suffered severe depression and anxiety after a difficult pregnancy.

"It was very confusing to me, and I didn't know that I needed help for several weeks. I really didn't know what was happening to me."

Palmer recommends visiting the website, which provides resources for new moms, spouses and families. With doctors and support groups all around the state, she says, the most important thing is to reach out for help.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA