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.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommended that women be screened for depression during pregnancy and after giving birth. WellMama, a Lane County nonprofit, is solely devoted to helping moms recover from perinatal mood disorders, including postpartum depression and anxiety.
When Hannah Vasey-Vehrs and Mary Mainenti first met, they had two things in common: They’d each recently had a baby, and they were both suffering from postpartum depression.
“It hit me in the form of severe panic and anxiety,” Mary explains.
For Hannah, there were a lot of tears. “I cried a lot and constantly felt like everything was just extremely difficult.”
Hannah’s health care provider gave her a brochure for WellMama, but she admits the brochure sat on her coffee table for weeks.
“I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I had any type of postpartum depression, because it just felt like admitting defeat or admitting failure.”
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 you feel like you should be overjoyed,” Dr. Kyle says. “You have this brand new baby—which you certainly love—but you might be having trouble bonding. It’s really hard to be up every two hours—you’re having trouble breastfeeding and all these other stresses.”
The importance of screening
Five 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 20-30 percent.”
Dr. Kyle serves on the board of WellMama; one of the organization’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, our case manager Jordan Bradshaw is on site to connect her with resources in the community, such as WellMama.
“And what I’ve found is that moms are super thankful that someone is there to talk to them about how they are doing, because it’s hard for you to be the best mom you can be when you’re feeling off,” Jordan says.
Trained peer support volunteers run WellMama’s “warmline.” If moms need someone to talk to, they can call 1-800-896-0410, day or night. In addition, WellMama offers weekly in-person and online support groups.
Hannah and Mary both sought help by attending a support group.
“Over time, it became easier to tell people I had experienced this and I found, to my surprise, that people were really receptive,” Hannah says. “It’s not a personal flaw. It’s not my fault I was depressed. It wasn’t something I failed to do. There’s a chemical component, there’s a hormonal component.”
Hannah now serves on the WellMama board and Mary is a volunteer.
“I feel like sharing my story is essential for other moms who are in the worst of it. I want to tell them it’s going to be OK,” Mary says.
Self-care for new moms
Having a newborn is can be emotionally and physically taxing. Dr. Kyle also 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 by 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.