Healthier Together: Postpartum depression can put new moms, babies at risk

SEATTLE — May 1 was World Maternal Mental Health Day and it gave doctors and some patients a chance to shine a light on the topic that’s often misunderstood.

Many doctors and mothers still contend that there’s still a lot of misperceptions and stigma around postpartum depression and overall mental health after a woman gives birth. KIRO 7′s Ranji Sinha sat down with a doctor to talk about the issue and why more work is probably needed to help people understand not just the physical, but mental demands during and after pregnancy.

Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, Executive Medical Director at Regence BlueShield, spoke on the issue that she said is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to confusion on the issue of maternal mental health.

“A vast majority of new parents will feel some changes, maybe a little bit of baby blues, as they’re adjusting to having a new baby at home,” said Dr. Saint Clair.

The so-called baby blues can hit parents hard, but Dr. Saint Clair says the blues are not postpartum depression; a true medical condition that can put new moms at risk along with their families.

“When we talk overall about the problems we’re having in the U.S. with relatively high maternal death rate, we know that behavioral health contributes to about half of maternal deaths at this point,” said Dr. Saint Clair.

CBS News recently interviewed a mother, Madison Ellis, whose daughter was born premature. Ellis admitted that the stress of the situation wore on her mental health.

“The anxiety and depression was something I’ve never felt before. I mean, I just cried, and cried, and cried,” said Ellis.

Ellis said postpartum stress hurt her efforts to bond with her daughter.

“I didn’t want to be near her. I didn’t want really anything to do with her. I almost checked myself into the hospital because I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t handle it,” said Ellis.

Dr. Saint Clair said roughly half of maternal deaths happen at least a week after delivery, making that time period critical for looking out for PPD.

She said new parents are already on new schedules, new routines, and are often sleep deprived, and all that can make it hard to spot PPD.

“This is a biochemical, real physical process that’s happening where changes — your body is not functioning exactly as it should,” said Dr. Saint Clair.

PPD can be debilitating, which is why it’s important to seek out treatment. But Dr. Saint Clair said people need to be aware and speak up about mental health, not dismiss it.

“What is important to remember is the vast majority of people may have nothing going on the surface. It may seem things are lining up perfectly, but because it’s a physiologic process that’s happening, it may come out of nowhere,” said Dr. Saint Clair.

The doctor also said that anyone who has been diagnosed with depression is at greater risk, but even those with no history of it can go through PPD.

“I do think we’re doing better talking about PPD and bringing awareness, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Dr. Saint Clair.