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How To Cope With Postpartum Depression

The death of five children at the hands of their mother in Houston, Texas this week has many people asking whether postpartum depression was the cause. CBS health correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains.

Postpartum depression is not the same thing as the "baby blues," right?

They are different. An estimated 80% of all mothers will experience a mild depression within a few days of giving birth, commonly referred to as the "baby blues." The symptoms are crying, irritability, fatigue, and insomnia. Usually the baby blues will go away after a few weeks.

How is postpartum depression different from the baby blues?

When a mild depression lingers and intensifies it can become postpartum depression, which can develop anytime up to a year from the birth of a child. It affects as many as 20% of women who give birth. The same symptoms of mild depression are present, as well as other more serious warning signs.

Strong feelings of inadequacy, despair, despondency, and anxiety can make a woman feel she is overwhelmed and unable to cope.

And these feelings can be accompanied by an inability to bond with the child, which in some cases can make a woman fearful of harming her child.

Is it common to hurt a child if you have postpartum depression?

No. It is very rare. But if postpartum depression is left untreated, about one in 1,000 women will go on to develop postpartum psychosis, which can result in violence.

This severe and dangerous condition is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, incoherence, frantic energy, and extreme confusion.

People with this psychosis need to be hospitalized for treatment. They are a danger to themselves and others--including their children.

Is postpartum depression treatable?

Absolutely. Antidepressant drugs are effective, and traditional "talking" therapy can also help. It's important for women and their families to be aware of the warning signs and to be willing to admit they are suffering. It is common for the condition to go untreated because many women are reluctant to accept that what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of their life is actually far from happy due to depression.

What causes postpartum depression?

The cause is not exactly clear. It may be a combination of biological and environmental factors. One theory is that the condition is a result of declining hormone levels that are elevated during the pregnancy but go down significantly after the birth of the child.
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