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Spring 2001
MELANCHOLY BABY
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A friend told her about UCLA's program, but she hesitated for several months because she was afraid to be evaluated by a psychiatrist and also believed that antidepressants were overused in our society. When the bad thoughts continued, Wilson finally relented. Her treatment included an antidepressant as well as participation in the support group.

Although it took a few months for doctors to determine the right dose of medication, Wilson gradually began to recover. "When I started feeling some joy back in my life, then I knew it was working," she says. "I began to feel like my old self again."

Women who need antidepressants but still want to breast-feed may worry about the effects of the medication on their infants. This and similar issues are being examined at the UCLA Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Disorders Program which, in conjunction with the Women's Life Center, helps women facing emotional problems associated with childbearing. The program encompasses several research studies, including one looking at the level of medication present in babies whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy, while breast-feeding, or both.

Victoria Hendrick M.D. '90, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood Disorders Program, is exploring not only the amount of antidepressant medication that gets into babies' systems, but its consequences, if any. The five-year study, which began in 1997, has so far shown only extremely low levels, with no adverse effects. The research includes testing the mental and motor development of the babies when they reach 18 months old as a way of detecting longer-term effects. So far, test scores have been the same as those for babies who weren't exposed to antidepressant medications. Hendrick hopes to extend the study another five years to monitor the children for an even longer period. She is still accepting study participants.

Other studies at the Mood Disorders Program are looking at the prevalence of depression in pregnancy, the effects of stress during pregnancy and the benefits of estrogen in treating PPD.

In my case, I chose to breast-feed my son while taking antidepressants, so I'm relieved by the research confirming the safety of that decision. It's been close to a year since I first sought treatment at UCLA, and I look back on that bleak time with a combination of wonder and disbelief. I truly feel like I've been given my life back. Best of all, PPD no longer dampens my love for my son, Steven. Now almost 14 months old, he is a source of constant delight.

I wish I had been educated about PPD when I was pregnant so I would have known to seek help sooner. Expectant parents must be made aware that PPD is more common - and more easily treated - than they might have imagined.

www.npi.ucla.edu/women
www.npi.ucla.edu/uclamdrp

Nancy Sokoler Steiner is a writer in Los Angeles. To make an appointment with the Women's Life Center or the UCLA Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Disorders Program, call (310) 825-9989.

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