Preventing Postpartum Depression

Researchers have launched the largest study ever exploring causes of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The study, using a *free iPhone app, seeks to get 100,000 moms to participate.

What causes Postpartum Depression?

There are a few reasons that doctors believe moms are susceptible to postpartum depression. There are hormonal changes, lack of sleep, emotional issues, and what seems obvious – a lack of in-home support for new moms from her first day home from the hospital. What is known is that 1 in 5 new mothers will be affected by Postpartum Depression or other mood disorders.

Moms are sent home from the hospital often with no female support. Dana Raphael, famous CT anthropologist, started to study the postpartum rituals in other cultures after her own difficult first birth:

“When I couldn’t breastfeed him, I was devastated. So what I did was go to the library and research what women in other cultures did to keep their babies alive. I studied this pattern in 178 cultures, and found that in every case, in every culture, there was a pattern of having some specifically named person come to be with the mother after childbirth. That person was usually mother’s mother. One day a very dear elderly Greek woman was listening to a conversation between myself and her daughter-in-law. “Oh yes,” she interjected. “That’s a doula. That’s the woman who comes across the street when there is a new baby, to help the mother with the other children.” With that, the role of the doula was invented. The doula is the person who supports the mother so that she can breastfeed.” – From the book “Only Mothers Know” by Dana Raphael

The Importance of Support

Culturally, a woman’s own mother or another female family member was her “doula” . Women had babies with their own mothers, aunts, sisters either living in the same home or living nearby.

How was this helpful? A new mom was surrounded with love, safety, good food, kind advice and a chance to sleep. She grew into her role of motherhood with the support of other beloved women. In many of these cultures there is no word for “Postpartum Depression”.

What about today? Women are sent home alone with their partner who, while supportive, may also be ill-prepared for the reality of bringing home a newborn. With just the two of them, a newborn’s constant needs along with a new couple’s lack of support and confidence can create stress that can overwhelm even the strongest of couples. Breastfeeding problems are also common with no female to guide and support her nursing.

The Role Of A Postpartum Doula

A Postpartum Doula is the key to lessening the stress of postpartum.

What are some things that suggest a new mom is struggling? Sonia Murdock, co-founder and executive director of Postpartum Resource Center of New York, says “Signs of struggle could be a new mother who is crying a lot, has trouble sleeping, has a loss of appetite or is eating too much, has panic attacks, is angry or irritable, seems overwhelmed or seems a bit off” said Murdock.

“We all can play a role,” she said. “I call it the perinatal mood and anxiety disorder safety net and every person in society plays a role because we just never know with having this information who we may come across and change the path of somebody’s life when we are being supportive, being understanding, being educated.” This is hard to determine with a brief visit to the pediatrician or during the 6 week postpartum visit with the Obstetrician.

Having this support in the home for an exhausted mom is essential. We read a lot about trying to identify and find the struggling moms or those prone to Postpartum Depression and getting them the help they need. If our health-care system recognized this essential need for postpartum women perhaps we could cut the number of those struggling with Postpartum Depression and other Postpartum mood disorders.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety

To get that message to a wider audience, Murdock’s organization implemented a public awareness campaign called “Ask the Question.” It involves asking new parents how they’re doing and how they are feeling, and then listening for the response. If there are concerns, the next step would be giving them the support or encouragement to get help, and being aware of the resources that are available for them.

“Ask them the question, ‘How are you doing? How are you sleeping? … How does it feel to have a baby?'” said Nitzia Logothetis, founder and executive chairwoman of the Seleni Institute, a nonprofit focused on serving the reproductive and maternal mental health care needs of women. “You actually start asking questions, people start to open up and you can then suggest that they try to see somebody.”

These are standard questions an effective Postpartum Doula asks. And then she listens.

In addition, the doula makes nurturing meals, plays with the siblings, keeps everyone in clean underwear and keeps the house kept up so that mom can rest, get to know her baby, and establish breastfeeding. A new mom who gets this kind of support often feels after a few weeks that she is able to take on her life again, often with joy rather than exhaustion.

Postpartum Depression? Perhaps for some but for most moms getting off to a good start with in-home female help from a Postpartum Doula whether from her immediate family or from a Professional Doula Service minimizes the possibility of her developing it. And if she does, her doula can be one to also encourage her to get additional professional help through her doctor or other professionals in the field.

*Would you like to take part in this Postpartum Depression study? Go to:

Written by: Susan Shepard Keeney, CLC, PD, Owner of MothersCare Doula Services of CT

About Susan Shepard

I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”


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