9 Myths About Postpartum Depression

Original Writing | Peri-Natal Psychiatry
Woman in Dark Room Clasping Legs on Floor

“I can tough it out through my pregnancy without treatment to protect my baby.”

Sound familiar? The topic of maternal mental wellness has seen much light in recent months, however despite increased coverage in the media, maternal mental health is still quite misunderstood. Let’s review and debunk 9 common myths about postpartum depression and mental health to help you stay informed:

1. Myth: The depression and anxiety I am feeling while pregnant will self-resolve once the baby is born.

Fact: Up to 1/3 of women who experience postpartum depression were sick during their pregnancies, and remained ill after delivery. Having a baby does not treat or cure any symptoms of depression and/or severe anxiety that a mom experienced while pregnant.

2. Myth: I should ‘tough it out’ through my pregnancy without treatment to protect my baby.

Fact: Having any moderate to severe symptoms of depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy can have serious negative lasting effects on a mother and her baby. Women with untreated mental illness in pregnancy are less likely to take good care of their physical health during their pregnancies by eating well, exercising, and obtaining appropriate prenatal care.

Babies exposed to untreated mental illness in-utero are at risk for several issues, including prematurity, small size (‘small for gestational age’), irritability and agitation, being inattentive, decreased activity, being emotionally distant and having developmental and/or emotional and/or behavioral issues later on in childhood.

3. Myth: I can will myself out of depression in pregnancy and postpartum depression.

Fact: Depression is a biological illness that can affect women at any stage of their life. 1 of 4 women will experience depression during their lifetime, and 15-20% of women experience depression in pregnancy and/or during the postpartum period. Like any depression, antepartum and postpartum depression cannot be willed away, and instead often require treatment from trained professionals.

4. Myth: As long as I have a good birth experience and I nurse my baby, I will avoid having postpartum depression.

Fact: Unfortunately, high-profile individuals who are untrained in maternal mental health have propagated the misconstrued idea that having a ‘natural’ childbirth, especially home-births, and nursing on demand, among other concepts will prevent postpartum illness. This is factually inaccurate, and inappropriately places blame on mothers who do experience postpartum illness.

5. Myth: I first realized I was depressed three months after my baby was born, so it’s not postpartum depression.

Fact: While the definition of postpartum depression traditionally required a diagnosis be made within four weeks of delivery, specialists in the field widely agree that this is not the case. Many women first present with symptoms of depression and/or anxiety within the first six months up to a year after delivery.

6. Myth: I am not crying all the time, and I can still take care of my baby, so it must not be postpartum depression, even if I am overwhelmed, anxious and irritable.

Fact: Postpartum depression and anxiety can present in many ways. Women may have several, but often not all of the following symptoms of postpartum depression: Sadness, irritability, anger (often directed at a partner or spouse), poor appetite, impaired sleep, hopelessness, crying frequently, lack of motivation and interest, poor bonding with baby, guilt, anxiety about the baby’s safety and health, and thoughts of suicide.

7. Myth: I am a bad mom because I have antepartum and/or postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

Fact: Having mood symptoms during pregnancy or after your baby is born does not make you a weak or unfit mom. Instead, it means you are among the many women who suffered or are currently suffering with mood symptoms during or after pregnancy.

Women who show no risk factors for antepartum or postpartum illness beforehand can still experience mood symptoms during or after pregnancy. Some signs of risk for antepartum and/or postpartum mood disorders include (but are not limited to):

  • Genetics
  • Sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations
  • History of prior episodes of depression and/or anxiety, including prior episodes during and after pregnancy.
    • Experiencing depression during or after a prior pregnancy increases the risk of having similar symptoms again during future pregnancies and after delivery by 50%.
  • History of abuse and/or trauma
  • Social stressors
    • Financial instability
    • Marital stressors, especially domestic abuse
    • Poor social supports

8. Myth: Treatments for mood symptoms in pregnancy and after delivery will harm my baby.

Fact: It is important to weigh risks and benefits of any exposure during pregnancy and while nursing. The risk of untreated moderate to severe illness is often considered greater than the risks conferred by treatments typically offered women during pregnancy and while nursing. There is a great body of literature to help guide your physician when choosing the safest possible medication during pregnancy and while nursing. Psychotherapy alone for more mild symptoms, and in combination with medication for more moderate to severe illness is completely safe and does not confer any risk, and can be very beneficial.

9. Myth: Having postpartum depression means I am at risk of harming and even killing my baby.

Fact: Women with postpartum depression do not harm their babies; the greatest risk is that they harm themselves. Inaccurate reporting in the media has led to significant fear and stigma surrounding postpartum depression. The illness should instead be correctly classified as postpartum psychosis if a woman has harmed her baby and/or herself.

Women with postpartum psychosis (a completely separate entity from postpartum depression) are at risk of killing their babies and/or themselves. Postpartum psychosis occurs in 0.1-0.2% of women after delivery, and is considered a variation of bipolar disorder. In a state of psychosis, women are unaware of reality and in that state, may pose a risk to themselves and/or their babies; they do not willfully harm their children. Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency, and requires immediate treatment by professionals, often in a hospital setting.

This post was initially published on Nine Naturals.  Read more articles by Carly Snyder M.D. on Nine Naturals

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