Noticing Signs of Postpartum Depression

Angela Strickland, BSN, RN, CLC

Smart Living: After the stress and exhaustion of delivering a baby, a new mother may experience sadness or anxiety, in addition to the expected feelings of joy and love. Are these feelings normal?

Angela Strickland: Yes, before and after delivering a baby, a woman is undergoing hormonal, physical, and emotional changes that may cause worry or unhappiness. It’s a lot of stress no matter who you are. But if these feelings are intense, long-lasting, or debilitating, it could be a sign of postpartum depression, or PPD.

PPD shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or a flaw. Having a history of depression can increase your risk of developing PPD, but it can happen to any new mom.

SL: How do nurses in the Telfair BirthPlace identify patients who might have PPD?

AS: Nurses and OB/GYN’s are the first line of defense for these women. We receive training on PPD and learn to notice its signs.  Some of these signs include extreme sadness, decreased appetite, not bonding with your baby or even not wanting to hold your baby. Usually new parents like to hold and talk to their babies, but a depressed mom often doesn’t want to do that.

We always have new moms fill out the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale before they are discharged. The patients complete this questionnaire based on their emotions of the last two weeks. Their score helps us determine if they are at risk for PPD.

SL: What do you do when you have identified a patient as possibly suffering from PPD?

AS: The first thing we do is call the patient’s OB/GYN. We can also order a psychology consultation. Since St. Joseph’s/Candler is a faith-based hospital, we also have a strong Pastoral Care presence that is available to patients. Sometimes patients just need somebody to talk to. Or there may be something else they are depressed about, such as issues at home or not having a significant other or family member there to help with the baby. We try to pinpoint the problem and provide resources for things like social services to help new moms after they leave the hospital.

Some women don’t seek help because they feel this is something they should get through on their own. They see themselves as the caregivers and don’t want to worry about themselves as much. But it’s an important part of going home with a new baby because a woman can be at risk for PPD for a year after delivery. We hope to educate new moms and their families about the signs of PPD and how to seek help.

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