New mothers shouldn’t be ashamed to seek help during difficult transition, UT Southwestern experts say
Depression is considered the most common complication of childbirth, and new mothers shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeking mental health care and treatments including therapy and medication, advised experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Latoya Frolov, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern.
“Postpartum depression affects the family on many levels, including relationships between women and their partners, and social and occupational functioning,” said Latoya Frolov, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UTSW. “It also influences attachment or bonding with their infants, which may impact child development. Treating it is important for the entire family.”
May is Maternal Mental Health Month, and mental health is “arguably the most important component of postpartum care,” said Martin Hechanova, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UTSW. “This is why we screen for depression at the beginning of pregnancy to ascertain a patient’s baseline, throughout pregnancy as needed, and at the postpartum visit.”
Dr. Hechanova said women may hesitate to discuss their symptoms of depression or anxiety after childbirth because of concerns about the stigma related to mental health. “But they should be reassured that these conversations with their doctor are important and confidential,” he said. “I remind my patients daily that our appointments are a safe space to discuss mental health and they can trust me with their symptoms and concerns about postpartum depression and anxiety. Early recognition and treatment are key.”
Martin Hechanova, M.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UTSW.
Dr. Frolov said postpartum transitions bring a shifting sense of identity. New mothers may experience guilt about self-care and have difficulty ensuring they have adequate nutrition, rest, and support for lactation – which can affect their mental health and ability to properly care for their newborn.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who develop postpartum depression may experience feelings of anger or worry, cry more often than usual, withdraw from loved ones, feel distant from their baby, think about hurting themselves or their newborn, or doubt their ability to care for the baby. Postpartum depression is more intense and longer-lasting than the “baby blues,” when women feel worry, sadness, and fatigue after childbirth.
The CDC reports that about 1 in 8 women suffer from postpartum depression. Mental health conditions, including those resulting in suicide and overdose/poisoning related to substance abuse disorder, are the leading cause of death during pregnancy and up to a year after childbirth, according to a 2017-2019 CDC report.
Dr. Frolov encourages women to start widening their support network during pregnancy and consider emotional and informational sources. This may include partners, extended family, friends, virtual support groups, and psychoeducational and parenting education groups.
Pregnant women and new mothers also can benefit from simple, pleasurable activities and even a weekly schedule with the goal of increasing positive daily experiences. Drs. Frolov and Hechanova said that after being cleared by their doctor, new mothers should engage in light-to-moderate physical activities and yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based interventions to benefit mood, anxiety, and sleep.
Patients with postpartum depression who have questions about medications or activity levels should contact their providers, Dr. Frolov added.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.
About Parkland Health
Parkland Health is one of the largest public hospital systems in the country. Premier services at the state-of-the-art Parkland Memorial Hospital include the Level I Rees-Jones Trauma Center, the only burn center in North Texas verified by the American Burn Association for adult and pediatric patients, and a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The system also includes two on-campus outpatient clinics – the Ron J. Anderson, MD Clinic and the Moody Outpatient Center, as well as more than 30 community-based clinics and numerous outreach and education programs. By cultivating its diversity, inclusion, and health equity efforts, Parkland enriches the health and wellness of the communities it serves. For more information, visit parklandhealth.org.