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many women, the joy that follows the birth of a child is overwhelmed
by crippling anxiety and depression. At UCLA, researchers are finding
ways to help.
by Nancy Sokoler Steiner '85
Illustration: Ester Watson
an expectant mother, I knew the birth of my first child would bring
boundless challenges along with boundless joys. I did not, however,
anticipate that by the time my son turned a month old, I would believe
that having a baby was the biggest mistake of my life. Yet soon
after giving birth, I grew increasingly anxious and despondent,
and felt little connection to my child.
I didn't realize it at the time, my negative feelings weren't confined
to the baby; I had stopped laughing, stopped being affectionate
and lost all desire to participate in the activities I normally
suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), a physical illness affecting
about 10 percent of women following childbirth. A type of clinical
depression, PPD is much more severe than the baby blues, a sometimes-tearful
two-week period experienced by many new moms. Women with PPD feel
sad, anxious and hopeless, often suffering difficulty sleeping,
appetite changes, anxiety and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Some have thoughts of suicide. Without intervention, PPD can last
months or even years.
with treatment, most women who suffer from PPD will feel like themselves
again within two months. However, because expectant mothers seldom
receive information about PPD, those who experience symptoms often
feel too ashamed or guilty to seek help. Doctors who are unfamiliar
with the condition misdiagnose others.
don't know the cause of postpartum depression, but they suspect
it results from a dramatic drop in estrogen, which peaks at 200
to 300 times its normal rate during pregnancy and then plummets
to its pre-pregnancy level within the first two days after childbirth.