The conversation everybody with a history of postpartum depression needs to have

Pregnancy and early motherhood can be challenging. Postpartum depression is a lot more common than you might think – about 8 to 12% of women are affected. Still, talking to your healthcare provider about your history of postpartum or peripartum depression can be a difficult conversation to begin.

Know the signs

Although the symptoms of depression can vary from woman to woman, these are some common ones to look out for:

  • Decreased hunger
  • Trouble sleeping (not enough sleep or too much sleep)
  • Insurmountable tiredness
  • Severe mood swings
  • Trouble socializing with family, friends, or baby (or disinterest in things previously enjoyed)
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby

Start early

You can talk to your healthcare provider about your mental health history at any point during your prenatal visits, but if you didn’t talk to your healthcare provider about mental health during pregnancy, your postpartum visit is a great time to check in, and so is any other time you start to wonder about your mental health – your doctor, midwife, an advice nurse, or a support line is only a phone call away, and checking in about what your options might be is a great first step at any point. Women who have experienced postpartum depression in the past have a higher risk of experiencing it again, so checking in with a healthcare provider will give them a chance to keep a close eye out for signs of a recurrence.

Have a plan

Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider about managing perinatal depression. Women with mental health concerns after delivery can benefit from a range of different strategies and interventions. These can include talk therapy, support groups, medication, exercise, and complementary-alternative therapies like yoga and aromatherapy. Your healthcare provider will be able to discuss your options with you and figure out what might work best. Think about coping techniques for challenging situations. Keep numbers of hotlines and emergency numbers handy in case of an emergency, and in case of thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, don’t hesitate to dial 911 or your local emergency number or go to your hospital’s emergency department.

If you’ve worked well with a therapist or other mental health professional in the past, now might be a great time to schedule a check-in with them. If you used a medication that worked well in the past, that’s an important thing to remember as well.

Be honest

Open and honest communication with your provider is key to a therapeutic relationship. It can be scary to ask for help and become vulnerable, but your healthcare provider is there to help you. If you’re working with a healthcare provider you truly feel you can’t open up to, you may not get the care you need and deserve, so don’t hesitate to find another provider you feel comfortable with. Your safety and your family’s well-being are the priorities, so try to disregard any pressure to appear “perfect” or to say things just to make your provider happy. Your provider can only help you if he or she knows there is something wrong.

Ask for what you need

There are many resources out there for women who have or have had perinatal or postpartum depression. Some may be more helpful for you in particular than others, so be sure to ask your provider what they suggest, and don’t be afraid to do a little trial and error before you find the resources and routines that feel most helpful to you. In terms of your medical care, put yourself in situations where you feel comfortable. Maybe you prefer to have your partner or a family member in the room with you during appointments – just ask! Speaking up is the best way to get what you need. You are your own best advocate.

Read more
  • Julie A. Lamppa. “Talking about postpartum depression.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 11 2015. Web.
  • “How do I talk to my healthcare provider?” PostpartumStress. The Postpartum Stress Center, LLC., 2017. Web.
  • “Postpartum depression facts.” NIMH. NIH Publication No. 13-8000 from National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, HHS, Jun 2016. Web.
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