Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.
Postpartum depression (PPD) has been referred to as the thief that steals motherhood because it can take the joy out of being a new mother. The symptoms of PPD, which vary in severity, affect approximately 50% of new mothers. This translates to hundreds of thousands of women globally each year, many of whom experience a debilitating level of postnatal depression. Although it is a biological problem, formal depression treatment is usually needed in the form of therapy.
PPD has serious implications for other family members as well. Children who are exposed to maternal depression in the first year of life tend to have difficulty with cognitive skills and social development.
Women with a previous history of depression are at particularly high risk of developing PPD. Other factors that can contribute to postpartum depression include the following:
- Feeling tired after delivery, broken sleep patterns, and not enough rest can prevent a new mother from regaining her full strength for weeks
- Stress from changes in work and home routines can have a negative impact on mood
- New mothers may have feelings of loss of identity with the onset of motherhood and the loss of their pre-pregnancy figure, causing them to feel less attractive
- Having to stay home indoors for longer periods of time can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation as new mothers have less free time to spend with a partner, family, and friends
Women with PPD who do seek help often look to complementary and alternative medicine treatments because of concern that antidepressant medication or other substances will be transferred to the baby via breastfeeding.
Although antidepressants have been shown to pass only minimally into breast milk, this is enough to cause concern in some women. Given these fears, around 50% of these women turn to complementary and alternative medicine.
Treatment for Postpartum Depression
As a depression therapist in San Jose, California, I have treated many women with PPD. Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for women suffering from PPD because it helps address the many interpersonal stressors that arise during the postpartum period. A 2000 study reported, “Psychotherapy reduced depressive symptoms and improved social adjustment, and represents an alternative to pharmacotherapy, particularly for women who are breastfeeding.”
Studies have also shown that group therapy can be beneficial when used in conjunction with individual therapy sessions in the treatment of PPD. Many of the studies on PPD and psychotherapy have focused on a style of therapy called “Interpersonal Psychotherapy” (IPT). IPT addresses interpersonal issues in depression, such as social functioning as it pertains to interpersonal disputes, role transitions, grief and interpersonal deficits.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and the University of Arizona College of Medicine combined forces to look at the feasibility of combining psychotherapy with nutrition counseling. The study’s authors concluded that nutrition counseling enhanced psychotherapy and produced better outcomes for new mothers with PPD.
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About the Author
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a practicing therapist, researcher and author specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and related disorders. Dr. Fredricks is a best-selling author of numerous books on complementary and alternative treatments for mental health including Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Depression. For more information on Dr. Fredricks work, visit her practice website San Jose Counseling and Psychotherapy.