Progesterone is a natural mood enhancer and during pregnancy a woman produces huge amounts to support the baby. However the levels totally plummet immediately after giving birth and this can lead to the ‘baby blues’ or in more serious case a deep depression. The woman herself is not the only casualty as when a new mother is depressed, either before or after giving birth, her emotional state can interfere with her child’s development.
Maternal prenatal stress and depression is linked to preterm birth and low infant birth weight, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Depression also affects a woman’s appetite, nutrition and prenatal care and is associated with increased alcohol and drug use. Women with untreated depression have a higher body mass index preconception, which carries additional risks.
It was thought that such depression was rare, but in a new, large-scale study seems to be more common than was believed. which is the largest scale depression screening of postpartum women and the first time a full psychiatric assessment has been done in a study of postpartum women who screened positive for depression.
The study was a massive undertaking which included a depression screening of 10,000 women who had recently given birth at Northwestern Memorial hospital and revealed a large percentage of women who suffered recurrent episodes of major depression. “In the U.S., the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders,” said lead study author Katherine L. Wisner, M.D of Northeastern . “It’s a huge public health problem. A woman’s mental health has a profound effect on fetal development as well as her child’s physical and emotional development.”
Suicide accounts for a staggering 20 percent of postpartum deaths and is the second most common cause of mortality in postpartum women. Many women who screened positive for major depression postpartum had already experienced at least one episode of depression previously and, in addition, had an anxiety disorder. The study found 30 percent of women had depression onset prior to pregnancy, 40 percent postpartum and 30 percent during pregnancy. More than two-thirds of these women also had an anxiety disorder.
Of the women who screened positive for major depression, 22 percent had bipolar disorder, the majority of whom had not been diagnosed by their physicians. It is a little known fact that postpartum is the highest risk period for new episodes of mania in a woman’s life. That’s a very high rate of bipolar disorder that has never been reported in a population screened for postpartum depression before and it is highly significant because antidepressant drug treatment alone can worsen the course of bipolar disorder.
“A lot of women do not understand what is happening to them,” Wisner said. “They think they’re just stressed or they believe it is how having a baby is supposed to feel.” It seems that women who have been pregnant in the past year are less likely to seek treatment for depression than women who have not been pregnant, as previous research has shown.
What can be done?
Women most at risk were those with some previous history of depression, but this was often not picked up in prenatal screening. The study found that the lives of several women who were suicidal when staff members called them for the screening were saved likely as a result of the study’s screening and immediate intervention.
There is a very simple step women can take to esnure they minimise their risk of depression or the baby blues and that is to restore their progesterone levels as soon after giving birth as possible. One of the many beneficial effects of progesterone is in supporting and maintaing elevated mood, and the natural way to do this is by supplementing with bioidentical natural progesterone so they do not have to plunge into the depression after giving birth.
Using a quarter teaspoon twice daily can help bring up the progesterone levels and cope with the mood swings often experienced and that many mothers assume is just what happens – it isn’t and something can be done about it.
Dr Tony Coope has written several informative artiles on coping with the baby blues and you can see them here: