For Serena Williams, postpartum depression like another trimester of pregnancy

Serena Williams holds her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanion Jr., in a scene from the HBO's "Being Serena," a five-part documentary series. (HBO via AP)
Serena Williams holds her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanion Jr., in a scene from the HBO's "Being Serena," a five-part documentary series. (HBO via AP)(AP)

Tennis great Serena Williams appeared to be a “super mom,” competing in Wimbledon just months after daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. was born. But Williams told Harper Bazaar UK magazine recently that motherhood can be hard. She said she still deals with postpartum depression, a form of mental illness that can afflict new moms.

“I think people need to talk about it more because it’s almost like the fourth trimester, it’s part of the pregnancy,” Williams told the magazine. “I remember one day, I couldn’t find Olympia’s bottle and I got so upset I started crying … because I wanted to be perfect for her.”

Dr. Janelle C. Cooper is an obstetrician and gynecologist at Mercy Medical Center.
Dr. Janelle C. Cooper is an obstetrician and gynecologist at Mercy Medical Center.((Handout))

Dr. Janelle C. Cooper, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Mercy Medical Center, said postpartum depression can take many mothers by surprise. She talks about the disorder’s symptoms and how mothers can prepare for the possibility they might suffer from it.

What is postpartum depression?


Postpartum depression is defined as a mood disorder that occurs after delivery of the baby and can last up to 12 months after delivery.

[It’s different from] “postpartum blues,” [which] is defined as a mood disorder that may involve feelings of sadness, anxiety, and even anger that occur in the first 1-2 weeks after delivery.

What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?

Symptoms may include classic symptoms of depression such as intense sadness, loss of interest in normal activities, guilt, lack or decrease in energy, difficulty concentrating or focusing, anxiety, increase or decrease in appetite, and psychomotor disturbances. They may also experience suicidal ideations. Some moms may have difficulty or lack of desire to bond with the baby.

What can make it worse? Stressful job?

Lack of support at home from a partner or family and stressful social situations can make dealing with it more difficult. Those with a history of depression or bipolar disorder can experience worse symptoms and are at high risk of postpartum depression. Stress from any source, such as a job, spouse or fussy baby, can make it worse without support

Is there anyway to prevent it or lessen the symptoms?

If you have a known history of anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, you should begin discussion with your doctor while you are still pregnant about ways to prevent it or lessen symptoms. This can include therapy and/or medications if severe. For those without a history of depression, making sure you set up a strong support system — family and friends to help with the baby and to be there for you — before the baby comes may help in case you are hit with an unexpected episode of depression.

What is the treatment for it?

Treatment includes psychotherapy by a trained professional. If severe, antidepressants may be considered. It is important to discuss with your doctor as soon as symptoms occur

Can moms take anti-anxiety and other medicines that could help with symptoms if they are breastfeeding?

Yes, certain anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants are safe during breastfeeding and can be prescribed by your physician or psychiatrist.


Can moms be a danger to their babies if the depression isn’t treated?

Yes, if postpartum psychosis develops, she can have hallucinations and try to hurt herself or even the baby. With severe postpartum depression a new mother could commit suicide, infanticide, or cause intentional harm to herself and/or the baby.

What can a women’s spouse and other close relatives and friends do to help them if they have postpartum depression?

If postpartum depression is suspected, speak up during postpartum visits with the doctor or, if any signs or symptoms appear, call the doctor for advice or additional resources for help. If they suspect a new mother may commit suicide, bring her to the emergency room immediately and make sure the baby is with someone safe. Never leave her alone with the baby if you suspect suicide or if you think she may harm the baby. Call for help.

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