Caring for a newborn comes with plenty of challenges, but motherhood is perhaps even more challenging for those who live with postpartum depression. Having this condition can make new mothers feel as if they are incapable of caring for their babies and lead to a host of other symptoms, like feelings of sadness and difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on new mothers, and rates of postpartum depression increased significantly in the midst of the disease outbreak and stay-at-home orders.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Before evaluating the change in postpartum depression prevalence during the pandemic, it is helpful to have an understanding of what this mental health condition entails. As the Office on Women’s Health explains, postpartum depression is an episode of depression that occurs after a woman gives birth. It is more than just the typical “baby blues” that can lead a woman to feel anxious and moody for a few days after having a baby. Postpartum depression is longer lasting and more severe than the baby blues.If you or someone you love is experiencing postpartum depression, she will show some or many of the following symptoms:
- Feeling sad or moody
- Crying frequently
- Experiencing thoughts of harming herself or the baby
- Feeling uninterested in the baby
- Lacking energy
- Feeling worthless or like she is an inadequate mother
- Difficulty with memory and concentration
- Not experiencing pleasure with enjoyable activities
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Physical symptoms like pain and stomach aches that do not subside
Postpartum Depression Rates from Pre to Post-Pandemic
Postpartum depression symptoms can create significant distress and interfere with daily life, and unfortunately, they’re becoming more common. According to data from prior to the pandemic, around 1 in 9, or about 11% of women, experience postpartum depression. Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a research report that assessed the results of eight different studies involving over 6,000 women who gave birth during the pandemic revealed that 34% of them had postpartum depression.
These figures represent a tripling of postpartum depression rates and suggest that promoting maternal mental health should be a priority. Shortly after the publication of the research report, a headline in U.S. News & World Report also warned of a tripling of postpartum depression rates among American mothers during the pandemic and indicated that nearly 20% of mothers with postpartum depression had thoughts of harming themselves. Fortunately, medical experts are calling for increased awareness of postpartum depression, to reduce stigma and provide resources for mothers and families.
Why The Increase In Postpartum Depression Rates?
The COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly stressful for the average American, but fear and anxiety during this period were likely worse for women caring for newborns, which could explain the increase in postpartum depression rates. Researchers have taken a look at the factors contributing to postpartum depression during the pandemic, and they found that formula feeding as opposed to breastfeeding, having fear about contracting COVID, and having a baby in the neonatal intensive care (NICU) unit all increased the risk for developing postpartum depression.
Interestingly, some of these risk factors are not unique to the pandemic. For example, data from well before the pandemic found that the following factors increased the risk of developing postpartum depression:
- Personal or family history of depression
- Lack of social support
- Problems in previous pregnancies
- Relationship and financial problems
- Having difficulty with breastfeeding
- Having a baby with special needs
- Struggling with drug or alcohol addiction
- Unplanned pregnancy
As seen in the risk factors noted above, some things did not change during the pandemic. For instance, difficulty with breastfeeding was a risk factor for postpartum depression even before the pandemic, and having a baby with special needs increases the risk that the baby will require treatment in the NICU, which was also related to postpartum depression during the pandemic.
Additionally, the pandemic could have worsened risk factors like financial troubles, relationship distress, drug and alcohol addiction, and lack of social support, all of which were also known to increase the risk for postpartum depression prior to the pandemic. It’s no secret that stay-at-home orders and economic difficulties resulting from the pandemic were associated with psychological distress. The stress associated with social isolation and living in the midst of a global disease outbreak also increased the risk of substance use. Combine these issues with worrying that you or your baby will contract COVID-19, and it is understandable why so many new mothers experienced mental health problems during the pandemic.
Addressing Maternal Depression
Women who experience symptoms of postpartum depression should seek treatment to help them find relief. If you find that you are having difficulty caring for yourself or your baby, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, it is critical that you reach out for treatment. Many women experience postpartum depression, and there is no shame in asking for help.
Postpartum depression treatment typically involves therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. During therapy sessions, you can learn strategies for coping with depression and develop healthier ways of thinking. Medication can also reduce depression symptoms, and your doctor can work with you to find a medication that is safe to take while breastfeeding.
TMS For Postpartum Depression
While many women find relief with therapy and medication, some will not experience an adequate reduction of depression symptoms with these usual forms of treatment. In this case, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be beneficial. TMS is a non-invasive treatment modality that delivers magnetic waves to areas of the brain responsible for mood regulation.
The benefit of TMS for postpartum depression is that it is safe for breastfeeding mothers, and there is no downtime required after the treatment. Simply report to a clinic or office for a 20-minute TMS session, and resume your normal activities, including caring for your baby, immediately after. If you’re looking for postpartum depression treatment in the Los Angeles area, Pulse TMS is here to help. We can treat depression during pregnancy as well as during the postpartum period, and you can continue to attend therapy sessions and take your antidepressant medications. Contact us today to learn if you are a candidate for TMS.