Q&A with a Doc: How to cope with postpartum depression

Through the United States, roughly one in seven women suffer from postpartum depression and of those, as many as 10% of their partners also suffer from postpartum. To explore this issue, On the PULSE sat down with nurse and midwife Kathy Swatkowski, of UPMC. 

Most of all, Swatkowski said postpartum depression “has nothing to do with whether you love your baby or not.” 

“It just has to do with the changes that are going on in your body,” Swatkoyski said. “Women that have postpartum depression, don’t love their baby any less than a mother that has never experienced postpartum depression.”

Full Q&A: 

Q. What is postpartum depression? 

A. Postpartum depression are feelings after having a baby of depression, anxiety, not being able to get through your day, not coping well, and there are a fairly long list of the signs of postpartum depression, things like not being able to sleep well, sometimes sleeping more than you might think you should, eating more or less than you normally would, feelings of withdrawal, anxiety, depression. 

Q. Can postpartum depression vary from person to person?

A. Absolutely, I mean as I was talking about, some people will sleep more. Some people will sleep less. So, it’s not that any one person would have all of the same symptoms as somebody else. It really just depends on how they’re coping and how they’re able to get through postpartum depression. So we do screen for all of the signs. Some people feel very hopeless when they have postpartum depression. And so we asked a variety of questions to screen women about postpartum depression. 

Q. What is the cause of postpartum depression?

A. There’s no one cause for it. So after you have a baby, there’s a lot of hormone changes, there’s a lot of social changes. There’s a lot of relationship changes, which really affect your whole life. So, we know that about one in seven women experience postpartum depression. But no one person presents the same as everybody else.

Q. How common is PPD? Has it increased?

A. I think that it’s probably been growing, especially in this time of COVID, there’s a lot of social isolation which makes it a lot harder for women. They’re not able to get out and just get out of their house after they’ve had their baby. The friends that they may have relied on before for support can’t come to their house for support. There’s also was something called the Baby Cafe here in Williamsport which was for new moms, and it was a great support group. But again, in COVID, it had to stop at that time. So because of that lack of social interaction, there is definitely right now an increase in postpartum depression and anxiety.

Q. How can a person deal with PPD?

A. I think one of the biggest things is just recognizing postpartum depression. So we do a screening tool and there’s really more of a push right now to not only define postpartum depression but to define perinatal depression, because we know that what goes on in pregnancy does affect how you feel postpartum. So we do screening at the beginning of pregnancy in the middle and then after you’ve had the baby, too. It’s really important to know what are your risk factors because if you have a lot of risk factors, you’re going to have more of a chance of having postpartum depression. So once you know your risk factors then we can try to alleviate some of those risk factors for our moms, and give them hints on how to better cope with any feelings of depression or anxiety that they’re having

Q. What are some prevention techniques?

A. Studies show that the best treatment for postpartum depression really is counseling, but counseling can be many things. It can be formal counseling and right now, some of that’s done online. It can also just be talking with your family, talking with friends, making sure that you express the feelings that you’re having, because we have to remember this isn’t an uncommon problem. So if you’re experiencing it. Probably somebody else in your family or friend group has experienced it also, and they can help you out. So we want you to be aware of your risk factors, talk about it, talk to your healthcare provider about it. A healthy lifestyle can really help so after you have a baby sleep deprivation is a big thing. You want to try to get as much sleep as you can, after you’ve had a baby, and that means sometimes somebody else helping out taking care of the baby. And obviously just eating healthy, getting a little exercise and getting out when you can, can really have a big difference on your mood.

Q. Is there a sense of ‘shame’ that plagues people with PPD?

There is definitely a shame factor. As I said, I’ve been doing this for 25 years. And in the beginning, it wasn’t even called postpartum depression somebody would say, ‘Oh she has postpartum.’ And it was just, you just knew what that meant. And now we’re really trying to make it something that you shouldn’t be ashamed of. Most of you don’t have any control over this as I said these are hormone changes, social changes, sleep pattern changes, and that all contributes to postpartum depression.

Q. How can family and friends offer support?

A. First of all, just looking, realizing that this can happen, and looking for the signs, so are there major mood changes that are going on that you know it’s not just that a woman is tired after having a baby there really are major mood changes that she’s having. And then talk to her about it, you know, say, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘What can I do to help out?’ ‘How about you go take a walk right now and I’ll help take care of the baby’. That can make a huge difference.

Q. How long does postpartum depression last?

A. I think, previously we thought that oh it’s usually over within the first three to six months. Now we’re finding that it can go on for six to 12 months. So just because you, you had a baby eight months ago doesn’t mean you can’t experience postpartum depression at that time. Generally, there’s something called the baby blues that usually starts in about three to five days after delivery. And that’s a self limiting change in your mood. So, because of all the changes in your environment and what’s going on, you’ll have periods of view tearful days, feeling like I don’t know if I want to get out of bed, but if something like that goes on for longer than seven days, that’s when you really do need to seek help. That’s when you are probably developing postpartum depression.

Q. What are the different types of PPD?

A. There is something called postpartum psychosis, which is the very extreme end of postpartum depression. So the very mild end is as I said, what we call the baby blues, you know, loud is a self limiting to about a week and then postpartum depression and then postpartum psychosis, while postpartum psychosis isn’t very common. It is devastating. There have been people and I’ve seen it where they’re people just aren’t able to function at all. With somebody that you suspect has postpartum psychosis, it’s imperative that you get them help immediately. And that usually just means taking the woman to the emergency room, where they can get evaluated, 

We don’t really talk about it a lot, and I know this interview is focused on the postpartum depression of women, but I think we also have to understand that up to 10% of their male partners also experienced postpartum depression. So, let’s not just talk about the postpartum depression in women, we also have to recognize that it does happen in men also, and this is where family members can come in also. But I think if we don’t get the word out that it can affect both partners, then we’re doing a real disservice to postpartum depression.

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  • On the PULSE is an online media outlet in Northcentral, Pennsylvania. We specialize in in-depth journalism, human interest content and video features. Our mission is to build engagement in community through local news.

On the PULSE

On the PULSE is an online media outlet in Northcentral, Pennsylvania. We specialize in in-depth journalism, human interest content and video features. Our mission is to build engagement in community through local news.