Part 1: Understanding Post Partum Depression

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Jul 6, 2010

Having a baby elicits a plethora of emotions – the anticipation, wonder and joy in the miracle of birth.
But while many assume that the feelings attached to labour and delivery are positive, there is a pocket of women who experience a deep and often paralyzing darkness – post partum depression or PPD – a clinical level major depressive episode occurring within the first month of having a baby.

The issue of PPD has increasingly been in the media spotlight in recent years, with celebrities like Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond taking steps to raise awareness about a condition that is now considered the most common complication of childbearing – with 13% of women in Canada experiencing some level of PPD, says Dr. Jeffrey Meyer.

Dr.  Meyer is a Senior Scientist and head of the Neurochemical Imaging program, Mood and Anxiety Disorders program, at the Canadian Association of Mental Health PET Centre, as well as an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.  He says one of the keys to understanding PPD is recognizing its many misconceptions.

“Most people are unaware that it can last for years, and raises the risk for future clinical depression, even unrelated to childbirth,” Dr. Meyer explains.
In addition, Dr. Meyer notes that there is a difference between PPD and what is commonly called the baby blues.

“Baby blues is considered in the healthy range.  It consists of sadness, with some mood lability, anxiety, poor appetite and irritability,” Dr. Meyer says. “It tends to start a few days after childbirth, peak at day five and then fade over the next few days.”

While it is normal to experience sadness after childbirth, how do you know if you truly have PPD? 
Dr. Meyer says that a persistent sad mood beyond three weeks following childbirth should be addressed by a healthcare professional, particularly if the symptoms are severe and include suicidal thoughts, inability to function on a daily basis due to sadness, and a low energy level.

The most common current approaches to treating PPD are prescribed antidepressants and therapy. 
Dr. Meyer notes that support groups, other support services, and asking family for help are key to success during the PPD coping process.

Despite the availability of proven PPD solutions, Dr. Meyers says more focus must be placed on prevention of PPD.  Dr. Meyer believes that the research will lead to the conclusion that diet and natural health products are the solutions to PPD prevention. However, until that research is completed, he says there are a number of things expecting mothers can do to help limit the risk of PPD.

“It is a good idea to try to get support from relatives and friends, [and] maintain your sleep and wake cycle as best you can,” Dr. Meyer suggests. “And get some regular exercise.”

Dr. Meyer is also the Canada Research Chair in neurochemistry of major depression and the first psychiatrist to receive the Royal College Medal Award in Medicine.

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