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New Moms with Postpartum Depression Need, Not Getting Treatment


While having a baby is usually a joyful event, some new moms struggle with postpartum depression, and many of them are not getting the treatment they need. According to a report from the UK charity 4Children, nearly half of new moms who suffered postpartum depression did not seek professional help.

How common is postpartum depression?

The figures on postpartum depression vary widely. Although a commonly quoted statistic is that it affects 10 to 15% of new moms, a recent 4Children survey of more than 2,300 new mothers suggested the figure was closer to 31%. The survey also found that women who had more than one child were more likely to say they had experienced postpartum depression than first-time mothers.

Postpartum depression is not the same as the “baby blues,” which about 80% of new moms experience for up to about 10 days after giving birth. Symptoms of baby blues include feeling upset, being mildly depression, and experiencing mood swings.

Postpartum depression is characterized by being miserable most of the time, feeling unable to cope, feeling overwhelming anxiety about the baby, crying for no reason, problems sleeping, loss of appetite, low energy levels, withdrawal from family and friends, difficulty in bonding with the baby, and feeling exhausted. These symptoms typically appear four to six weeks after giving birth, are intense, and last for weeks and months.

New moms are not getting treatment

According to the 4Children survey, 49% of new moms with postpartum depression did not go to a professional for treatment. First-time mothers were less likely (42%) than women with more than one child (54%) to seek professional help.

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One third of the women with postpartum depression said they were too frightened to tell others about their depression because they feared what might happen to them or to their infant. Nearly a third said they had not realized until later that they were experiencing postpartum depression, and when they did realize it, 60% said they did not think their condition was serious enough to look for help. Thirteen percent they did not have support from their partner to seek help.

Among the new moms who did seek treatment, about 70% were given antidepressants by their physician and only 41% had access to counseling or therapy, which is recommended as an option for mild to moderate depression.

According to Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, “many families are suffering the consequences of postpartum depression in silence, and even when they do seek help they all too often encounter a wall of indifference and a lack of empathy from medical professionals with an over-reliance on antidepressants for treatment.”

What are the dangers of not getting treatment?

For most women who have mild postpartum depression, symptoms resolve within 3 to 6 months, but for some new moms the depression continues longer. The consequences of mothers suffering with long-term depression can have serious implications for their infants.

These moms have fewer positive interactions with their babies, and untreated or long-term postpartum depression can also have a negative impact on an infant’s cognitive and language development. The 4Children report noted that postpartum depression can lead to “long-term consequences of poor early bonding,” relationship difficulties, and excess pressure on older children to care for their infant siblings.

The 4Children report highlights the prevalence of postpartum depression and the need for new moms to get treatment for this condition. Although the recommendations offered by the report address the health system in the United Kingdom, they are universal in nature and include raising awareness of postpartum depression, training professionals about postpartum depression, and increasing the use of psychological therapies for new moms.

4Children, “Suffering in Silence