Between 10 and 20 percent of moms will suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), but most women don’t seek treatment. Many barriers stop women from reaching out, such as stigma, difficulty finding care, or wariness about the safety of treatment. Jyoti Sachdeva, M.D., is a psychiatrist at UC Health with over 21 years of experience. She is currently conducting a research study in Ohio to find how much women know about PPD symptoms and what challenges they face in finding care. She answers our questions about PPD.
When should moms who think they might be suffering from PPD reach out for medical help?
Women who are feeling high levels of anxiety, persistent sadness, loss of interest, not being able to care for their newborn, not feeling interested in the newborn, not bonding with the newborn, or having suicidal thoughts should definitely reach out, the earlier the better. Symptoms of PPD can start during pregnancy and can last over a year if left untreated. Women who have any personal history of anxiety or depression or went through any kind of stress during or after their pregnancy are also at a higher risk for PPD and should reach out if they notice these symptoms.
How are the “Baby Blues” different from postpartum depression?
Baby Blues are really common and they usually start within a few days after delivery and last, at most, up to two weeks. Baby Blues can consist of feeling overemotional, tearing up easily, but the overall feeling is still joy about having the baby. It’s very common, and doesn’t require any formal treatment. With postpartum depression, the symptoms are more severe and last over two weeks after the baby is born.
What PPD symptoms do you typically see in your patients?
High anxiety, sadness, feeling overwhelmed and feeling like they can’t take care of their baby or aren’t good enough to take care of the baby. Feeling like they’re not a good mother, or that the baby would be better off without them. Difficulty sleeping, panic attacks. One symptom that’s very common in PPD is high anxiety about the baby’s well-being. Moms will check on the baby over and over, not sleeping because they have to check on the baby, and they worry a lot about causing harm to the baby unintentionally. Some women will even stay away from stairs or windows, worried they’ll drop the baby.
What treatments do you recommend for PPD?
Individual or group psychotherapy is a really good treatment for mild to medium symptoms, or if symptoms are more severe, we’ll add on medication. There are several medications that moms can take safely while breastfeeding. We combine medication and psychotherapy and other lifestyle modifications, like stress management, exercise, or supplements.
What are some challenges women face in finding and getting treatment?
The biggest challenge I hear from women is access to treatment. There are not a lot of doctors comfortable treating women who are pregnant or postpartum, so getting into treatment is a big challenge. I would advise all women to bring up their symptoms to their OB-GYN or primary care doctor who can give them a referral to get into treatment.
Is stigma surrounding PPD and mental health a barrier?
Definitely. Women worry that if they tell their doctor they’re having suicidal thoughts, Child Protective Services will be called, and their baby will be taken away. So a lot of women who need treatment never reach us. I think if we did a better job of educating women during pregnancy about postpartum depression and the impact of the symptoms, we could get more people into help.
What would you like women who may be suffering from PPD to know?
The big message is that postpartum depression is common and there’s research that shows that more than 75 percent of women with PPD go untreated. Without treatment, there can be significant complications for the woman, her baby, her family, and the maternal attachment, so it’s really important to seek help and know that there is safe treatment available.
Jyoti Sachdeva, M.D., is a psychiatrist at UC Health with more than 21 years of experience. She is currently conducting a research study in Ohio to find how much women know about PPD symptoms and what challenges they face in finding care.