It’s estimated that 1 in 4 women in Lane County experience depression or anxiety after having a baby. These feelings are nothing to be ashamed of, but many new moms may find it difficult to talk about or ask for help.

Coordinating awareness efforts with birth providers and pediatricians in the community, WellMama, a Lane County nonprofit, is devoted to helping moms recover from perinatal mood disorders, including postpartum depression and anxiety.

“Postpartum depression is actually the number one complication of childbirth,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “We have to do a better job of supporting moms and dads after they have a baby because their mental health affects their physical health and all of those things directly impact the baby.”

Seeking help
After the birth of her oldest child six years ago, Heather Gray found herself suffering from symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.

“I had daily panic attacks, and I couldn’t eat after he was born,” Heather says. “I had a lot of feelings of regret and feelings of just wanting to leave. I repeatedly said to my husband, ‘I just want this to stop. I just want to feel better.’”

Recognizing that she needed to get help, Heather sought counseling and joined a support group through WellMama.

“Connecting with WellMama was so helpful because I was connecting with people who had gone through a similar situation, and they understood,” Heather says. “To know that you have somebody that you can commiserate with or share your own experiences—and they’re not going to judge you—that’s really powerful.”

The importance of screening
Dr. Brooke Kyle, an obstetrician with Women’s Care, says it’s common for women to experience various degrees of depression, anxiety or stress after having a baby. But it may be hard to acknowledge it because doing so may make them feel like they are less of a mother.

“When you’re doing everything for the baby, a lot of times it’s really easy to neglect yourself and not voice the feelings that you are having. Feelings of ‘Holy, man—this is hard!’” she says.

Eight years ago, Dr. Kyle and her partners at Women’s Care instituted routine screening for women at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again at six weeks postpartum, asking them to fill out a questionnaire about how they were feeling.

“And we found that we increased the detection of perinatal mood disorders, like postpartum depression, by about 30%.”

One of WellMama’s goals is to educate more health care providers about the importance of screening. At Eugene Pediatric Associates, we routinely screen new moms for postpartum depression at their infant’s well baby checkups. If mom needs help, case managers Jordan Bradshaw and Jamie Smith are on site to connect her with resources in the community, including WellMama.

Dr. Bradshaw says, “We want parents to know that we are a safe place to talk about how they are feeling. “If they feel more comfortable writing down their feelings, we have a questionnaire for them to fill out, and Jordan and Jamie are here to meet face to face with moms or talk with them on the phone when they’re ready to seek help.”

Reaching recovery
Heather is now a healthy mom of two and serves as a volunteer support groups facilitator for WellMama, and as one of the trained peer support volunteers who run WellMama’s “Warm Line.” If moms need someone to talk to, they can call 1-800-896-0410, day or night. Simply leave a message and a volunteer will call back within 24 hours.

“I want people who are suffering to know that by reaching out for help, you can and will feel better; this is a temporary thing,” Heather says. “It takes some work to feel better, but when I talk to someone on the phone, I can hear their audible relief when I tell them that they are not alone, that what they are going through is really common.”

Self-care for new moms
Having a newborn can be emotionally and physically taxing. Dr. Kyle offers these tips to help moms take care of themselves:

  • Try to get 8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. You need sleep to cope with all the stresses that come with having a newborn.
  • It’s OK to let some of those daily chores go undone around the house while you focus on your baby.
  • If friends or family offer to bring meals, do the dishes or run errands—let them.
  • Don’t feel like you need to entertain people who stop by to visit the baby.
  • Be sure to get some exercise each day, even if it’s just taking a short walk around the block.

First FDA-approved medication for postpartum depression
In March 2019, the Food and Drug Administration approved Zulresso (brexanolone) for the treatment of postpartum depression in adult women. This is the first drug approved by the FDA specifically for this disorder.

Zulresso is administered as a continuous IV infusion over a total of 60 hours and can only be given by a health care provider in a certified health care facility. Clinical trials show the medication works within 48 hours—a significant improvement over currently available antidepressants, which can take two to four weeks to have an effect. Officials with Sage Therapeutics, the drug’s manufacturer, say they expect that insurers will cover the treatment; insurers are currently evaluating the drug.

Dr. Kyle is part of the group working with area hospitals to put protocols in place for Zulresso. The drug could become available in Lane County as early as fall or winter of 2019.