Announcer: The biological changes in mothers –all mothers- after childbirth are very significant and important. But for some parents, this postpartum period can lead to a type of depression thought to be associated with drastic changes in hormone levels. Post partum depression is estimated to affect, perhaps, as many as 13-percent of all new mothers.
Dr. Peter Schmidt: So each year in the United States there are approximately half a million women who are at risk of developing postpartum depression. So, clearly this is an important condition to the public health of this country, these are prevalent conditions that are associated with considerable morbidity.
Kathleen O’Leary: Many women, probably at least fifty percent, experience what are called the baby blues for a week or two after giving birth where women may feel tearful… may feel emotionally very sensitive… may feel overwhelmed…not like themselves. And this is not unusual. If these symptoms go on for more than two weeks or become more intense or women start experiencing some of the other symptoms of depression, then they should really seek help.
Announcer: What started out as sleep deprivation issues transformed into more serious problems for one young mother who decided to participate in clinical research at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Patient: It was painful. When I think back it makes me sad because I wasn’t able to enjoy him as a newborn. Things got a little more intense with him not sleeping through the night and I just became a zombie. I kind of ignored it at first and then there was this one day I was in the kitchen I remember I was chopping onions I was making dinner and the thought came naturally and that’s what shocked me. I should just chop my fingers off or just chop my wrist off and that was just such a morbid thought. It scared me.
Kathleen O’Leary: If someone feels that they would be better off dead or that others would be better off without them, then that is the most serious sign that means that a medical professional needs to be consulted about this as soon as possible.
Announcer: Research has shown some women are at greater risk of experiencing postpartum depression including women who have had postpartum depression with a previous child. Women who have had depression, whether treated or untreated, at another time in their lives. As well as women who have bipolar disorder. Dr. Peter Schmidt and his fellow investigators at NIMH have conducted extensive research into postpartum depression its causes and possible treatments. Current research includes the indication that estradiol, a form of estrogen, has a rapid antidepressant effect on women with postpartum depression.
Dr. Peter Schmidt: Because of our earlier work it suggested that declining levels of estrogen during the postpartum around delivery might contribute to triggering the onset of depression. And there had been some preliminary open trials showing that estradiol may have an effective antidepressant action in some of these women. So, we have a study now in which we’re using estradiol, physiological levels, so comparable to what a woman would be exposed to during her normal cycle and we give that in a controlled trial to women who have current postpartum depression.
Announcer: The possibility of successful hormone treatment along with effective therapy has been very encouraging for many women.
Patient: I’m doing much better- much better. I’m more coherent in my thoughts. I can take a step back when the baby’s really upset and not get so frustrated or angry at him. He deserved a better mom and I think I’m that better mom for him now.