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Postpartum Depression: Intervention Critical to Halt Emotional and Physical Harm

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September 19, 2014
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Boston Evening Therapy Content

Postpartum DepressionThose who give life are not supposed to take it away, or harm innocent babies. The instincts of motherhood and its protective nature, however, can be twisted by the psychological shadow of postpartum depression.

Short-term “baby blues” can result in mood swings, sadness, anxiety, crying spells, loss of appetite or trouble sleeping. Its wicked stepsister, postpartum depression, may surface as the mother’s loss of interest in caring for the baby, and in some cases, thoughts of harming herself or the infant.

A 35-year-old mother, Jeanne Marie Johnson of Portland, Ore. told the New York Times in a June 15, 2014 article of her disturbing thoughts after her daughter Pearl was born. Johnson said she “…imagined suffocating her while breast-feeding, throwing her in front of a bus or slamming her against a wall.” Johnson also envisioned dropping Baby Pearl off a bridge over a mall skating rink.

While Johnson said she was horrified at her own thoughts and did not carry out any of the acts, these potentially tragic mental perspectives in some new mothers stand as an urgent warning that more must be done to recognize and treat postpartum depression.

Here are some critical findings of a 2013 study of 10,000 women done by Katherine Wisner at the Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders at Northwestern University:

  • One-third of the cases of postpartum depression weren’t postpartum at all – depression began during pregnancy.
  • Of 10,000 women screened, 14 percent had depression four-to-six weeks after the birth.
  • More than 19 percent of the women had thoughts of harming themselves.
  • More than 22 percent were diagnosed with bipolar disorders.

Postpartum depression can create long-term mental health problems for the children, particularly during adolescence, arising from mother’s lack of attention and responsiveness the child’s needs, according to a study done by the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Pediatricians are a critical front line in recognizing symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the conclusions of the Canadian study. These physicians, armed with diagnostic tools and referrals for therapists and support groups, can help dissolve the lingering shadow of postpartum depression by immersing it in the light of understanding.


Belluck, Pam, “Thinking of Ways to Harm Her: New Findings on the Timing and Range of Maternal Mental Illness,” New York Times, June 15, 2014

Wisner, Katherine,“Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings,” JAMA Psychiatry, May 2013

Canadian Paediatric Society, “Maternal Depression and Child Development,” Paediatrics and Child Health, 2004

Postpartum Support International, “Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders,” 2014

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