The arrival of a new baby brings a flood of emotions: happiness, pride, hopefulness, and love. But it surprisingly can also bring negative emotions such as anxiety, worthlessness, feeling overwhelmed, exhaustion, shortness of temper, and depression. For too many women, delivering a baby does not become the imagined blissful state of happiness and joy but rather becomes the gateway to a difficult, debilitating experience of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression can come out of nowhere, catching new moms – and their partners – completely off guard. Although often confused, postpartum depression is not simply the “baby blues.” Baby blues is a far more common condition that affects up to 75 percent of women after delivery.
Baby blues are characterized by feelings of sadness, crying for no apparent reason, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms start within a few days of giving birth and last up to two weeks. Baby blues usually subside on their own with no long-term effects and the best treatment is simply self-care: take things easy, find a trusted support network of family, friends, or your partner, and know that it’s OK to experience unpleasant emotions.
How do I know if I have Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a much more severe condition than baby blues, in both duration and severity. Postpartum depression lasts several weeks to months, but can even last a year or longer, and the symptoms are more severe than with baby blues.
Postpartum depression may include many of the same symptoms experienced with baby blues, along with the symptoms typical of clinical depression:
- Feeling sad, worthless, or hopeless
- Excessive worry
- Loss of interest in hobbies or things you once enjoyed
- Change of appetite or not eating
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time
- Difficulty focusing
- Thoughts of suicide
- Thoughts of hurting your baby or feeling like you don’t want your baby around
Although it may be tempting to self-diagnose using the above list of symptoms, only your healthcare provider can diagnose postpartum depression. If you (or your partner) are experiencing these symptoms, you should make an appointment with a mental health professional to be screened for postpartum depression and receive an accurate diagnosis.
How common is Postpartum Depression in Utah?
The percent of Utah women reporting postpartum depression has risen over the past decade, with nearly 15 percent of Utah women reporting experiencing postpartum depression after giving birth in 2020 (Source). Younger mothers (under 24) report a higher incidence of postpartum depression, with more than 20 percent experiencing postpartum depression.
Compared to the national average, Utah’s postpartum depression rate is higher than average, with 14.9 percent of women experiencing postpartum depression compared to a 12.9 percent national average.
Unfortunately, having experienced postpartum depression does not build immunity against a repeat episode with a subsequent childbirth. In fact, the opposite is true. Women who experienced postpartum depression with a previous birth are two to three times more likely to experience postpartum depression again with a subsequent birth.
Treatment for Postpartum Depression
Although postpartum depression is not yet fully understood, there are effective treatments available. Psychotherapy and medication have been used effectively for years, with a newer treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), growing in popularity as a treatment for postpartum depression.
Often referred to as “talk therapy” or simply “therapy”, psychotherapy involves talking through issues with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional. A trusted therapist can help you discover better ways to cope with situations, identify root causes, and explore related areas of improvement. The downside of psychotherapy is that it can take quite a few sessions before it becomes effective, can be costly, and requires a time commitment free from distraction.
Postpartum depression can often effectively be treated with antidepressants. Antidepressants work to solve chemical imbalances in the brain that cause the negative symptoms associated with postpartum depression. However, the downside of treatment with medication is that for women who are breastfeeding, antidepressants taken while breastfeeding will enter breast milk and be passed to the baby. Although the risk is considered low, studies have confirmed detectable levels of antidepressants in breast milk for all antidepressants studied (Source). For this reason, many women seek non-pharmaceutical options for treating postpartum depression.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, OCD, and other common mental health disorders. TMS is a non-pharmaceutical, interventional psychiatric procedure that stimulates the brain using magnetic pulses. These pulses produce a stimulus/response in the brain that creates healthy neural pathways and restores healthy brain function and emotions.
Many women are choosing TMS for postpartum depression treatment because the time to efficacy is typically the same as with antidepressants (approximately four weeks), yet doesn’t have the same negative side effects as antidepressants. Because TMS is not a pharmaceutical treatment, it is not passed through breast milk, making it a safe option for breastfeeding mothers.
Research studies have found that TMS is safe and well-tolerated for women with postpartum depression, with remission rates for postpartum depression (meaning a successful outcome) reported between 66% and 90% (Source) – a rate higher than the typical remission rate with anti-depressants.
“All of the studies conducted thus far indicate that rTMS is safe and well tolerated in women with postpartum depression. Treatment resulted in improvement in depressive symptoms which were maintained over 3 to 6 months of follow-up. Remission rates were relatively high, ranging from 66% to 90% in open label trials.”
One potential downside to TMS treatment is that the treatment is a daily procedure performed in a doctor’s office. While many new mothers are concerned about the time commitment involved, the treatment itself is relatively short, requiring only 20 minutes per session to complete. And unlike a therapy session, a new mother can take her baby with her into the TMS treatment room, making it a more convenient option.
Many women report a rejuvenating effect from TMS, finding they have renewed energy, increased motivation, and a higher ability to concentrate after a TMS session, thus making the rest of their day more effective – which more than compensates for the time spent receiving TMS.
Where to Find TMS Treatment for Postpartum Depression in Utah
Although OB/GYNs see a high volume of patients dealing with baby blues and postpartum depression, it is important to remember that OB/GYNs are not mental health professionals. To receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan that works best for you, you should visit a psychiatrist or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. They can accurately screen you for postpartum depression and consult together with you on which treatment plan to pursue.
In Utah, Ampelis Health offers postpartum depression screening and treatment at two locations, one in Utah County at their Highland office and one in Weber County at their South Ogden location. If you suspect that you (or your partner) may be suffering from postpartum depression, call Ampelis Health today at 435-776-5909 to begin the path to healing.
Research study abstract: Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of postpartum depression