While no one knows for certain yet whether post partum depression was a factor in the Houston killings this week, it has focused attention on the condition. KOTV's Glenda Silvey talked with some local doctors about the causes and treatment.
The birth of a baby is usually the happiest of times. Still, doctors say, the dramatic hormonal shift and other changes often result in what's commonly called "baby blues." In more severe cases, it progresses to severe depression. Dr Lynn Frame, Obstetrician: "Well, it's paradoxical. Here's a mother with a brand new baby. She should be joyous; it should be a happy occasion, but in the back of their mind they're thinking 'how am I going to take care of this baby for the next 18 years?' Feelings of inadequacy, feelings like I said of being overwhelmed, sometimes it just gets to them." Dr Jeff Mitchell, Psychiatrist: "Postpartum depression itself can last for weeks or a few months, but it's pretty rare for it to go into a seven month period of time."
Seven months was the age of Houston mother Andrea Yates' youngest child. Dr Jeff Mitchell says her action is an extreme event and suggests the possibility of a more serious disorder. He believes women who experience postpartum depressive episodes have an inherited vulnerability for depression, and the hormonal and emotional stresses of birth trigger it. He says some new mothers have suicidal thoughts or think of hurting their babies. "And often times when they have those fears, they're driven to treatment because obviously they're very distressed by those thoughts. But it's very unusual to have somebody act on those thoughts."
Doctors say families should be aware of the symptoms of postpartum depression. Withdrawal, excessive crying, expression of negative thoughts, failure to care for the baby, appetite or sleep disturbance. If those symptoms appear, contact your doctor. Dr Frame says most mothers feel overwhelmed by caring for new babies, especially if there are other children at home. But most cases of postpartum depression respond quickly to treatment.
Dr Mitchell says women who experience postpartum depression are predisposed to having it in subsequent pregnancies. The treatment is psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication.