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The Baltimore Sun

Sleep-deprived. Feeling overwhelmed. Exhausted. Sounds like just about every new mom you've ever met. But sometimes these feelings describe more than the simple facts of life for the mother of an infant. If they persist or significantly affect a woman's quality of life, they may be symptoms of postpartum depression, says Erika Lynn Nichelson, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and obstetrician/gynecologist at Mercy Medical Center.

What is postpartum depression and whom does it affect?

Postpartum depression is simply depression following pregnancy. It can affect anyone -- it cuts across all kinds of lines. Those with a history of depression may be at greater risk for postpartum depression.

New mothers may experience what's called "baby blues," which are mild crying spells that can affect up to 8 to 10 percent of women. The difference between the "blues" and postpartum depression is that the "blues" resolve themselves in about two weeks. Depression can continue for weeks to months.

What are the causes of postpartum depression?

Hormones play a role in every stage of life and particularly during and after pregnancy. But there are other causes: any life stressors such as marital conflict, lack of support [for the mother caring for a newborn] and interrupted sleep.

Having a baby can create stress, and if you are at-risk for depression anyway, you could become depressed.

What are the symptoms?

They are similar to symptoms of major depression. They can include disturbed sleep, loss of energy, sadness, changes in mood, feeling tired, weight loss, decreased libido. Many of these symptoms can follow pregnancy; it is when they become a concern to you or continue for weeks or months that they may signal depression.

And someone suffering from postpartum depression might either worry too much about her baby or have thoughts of harming her baby.

When should you consult a doctor?

When the symptoms become a concern to you or to the people around you. If you notice you are feeling sad all the time, that you aren't enjoying your baby or you wake up or go to bed crying, you should contact your doctor.

A lot of times, it is pediatricians who pick up on this first because the mother is going to that doctor more frequently than her own.

The pediatrician might say, "Every time you are here, you are tired or maybe seem to not be keeping yourself up." If doctors don't ask, often women don't say [that they need help].

How is postpartum depression treated?

Any of the medications typically used to treat depression is an option. Counseling, in addition to medications, is a more effective treatment than medications alone. A lot of the time, through counseling, you can figure out ways of better managing your time: Sleep while the baby naps, for example. Don't worry so much about the laundry. The patients can learn how to focus on themselves as well as their baby.

One recent study indicated that about 14 percent of mothers may suffer from postpartum depression. It also showed that about 10 percent of fathers may also show signs of depression after the birth of a baby. What are the signs of postpartum depression in men?

I think that men who are already prone to depression may be affected. With a new baby, the focus is away from them -- to the wife and baby -- and they feel isolated. This may happen especially with husbands of women who are breast-feeding. The men can feel that they are not a part of it and this could lead to postpartum depression although they obviously did not [bear] the baby.

Are the symptoms the same for both men and women?

They are going to have similar symptoms: sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy. The dads also are sleep-deprived, though typically not as much as the mothers.

Are there ways to prevent postpartum depression?

We physicians should be asking patients, "Are you doing all right?" and patients should be comfortable asking for help or saying, "I feel like crying all the time." A lot of people have this, and it is OK to ask for help.

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