Kentlee Battick was desperate. She was confused. She was scared.
After trying for a year to have a baby, her daughter was here, and Battick had a powerful sense of regret. She didn’t understand why, but she couldn’t eat or sleep. She was afraid to be alone with the baby because she didn’t know what she would do.
Battick needed help.
“I felt a level of doom and despair I’d never felt before,” she says.
Despite her feeling of helplessness, Battick wasn’t alone. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows about one in eight women experience symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD). Depending on age, race/ethnicity, and geography, some estimates push the number of women affected to one in five. About three-quarters of individuals at risk for postpartum depression are untreated.
Battick, a nurse at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, was able to get the support she needed through the hospital’s Fetal Care Program, which was started with funding by A Woman’s Journey.
A Woman’s Journey stems from a Johns Hopkins Medicine conference focusing on health issues for women and empowering them to make effective health decisions for themselves and their loved ones. A Woman’s Journey at All Children’s has raised nearly $500,000 — all toward the Fetal Care Program.
“This is a program that treats women when the babies are in utero to identify issues and then also follows them post-pregnancy,” says Katrina Mason, All Children’s Foundation’s senior associate director of community engagement. “It’s not often you have a program that follows families pre- and post-pregnancy to be sure they’re going to have the healthiest outcomes possible.”
Support from A Woman’s Journey included funding for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital psychologist Lacy Chavis, PsyD, who has part of her time dedicated to the Fetal Care Program and treated Battick for PPD.
“This happens to a lot of women, and it doesn’t say anything about them as a mother or their identity as a woman,” Chavis says. “Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders happen to a significant proportion of women who give birth. We need to acknowledge and validate that experience.”
Chavis says each woman’s experience is different, but about a third of women who experience postpartum depression or anxiety disorders begin to feel like they are not themselves before they deliver the baby, another third has the experience shortly after delivery, and another third within a year after the baby arrives.
“It’s best to acknowledge that you don’t feel like yourself; be honest; and talk to a friend, your partner, your OB, or child’s pediatrician,” Chavis says. “Have conversations before you deliver. Because the more we talk about it, the easier it becomes and the less stigmatizing it is.”
Family and friends sometimes unintentionally exacerbate the situation or struggle to understand the mother’s feelings.
“It can be very difficult to explain to a partner or family or friends that are celebrating the occasion,” Chavis says. “It really helps for family and friends to validate and normalize the feelings the mother has and work as a support team to help her by acknowledging this significant life transition, assisting with infant care, allowing mother to rest, having time/space for self-care, and encouraging use of community and professional resources.”
Chavis taught Battick some relaxation techniques and how to recognize what triggered her feelings. Lack of sleep can be a big factor.
“I got better but only because of Dr. Chavis,” Battick says. “My world got better. My family got better. I learned to smile again. Moms sometimes need some help. They and everyone around them need to know it’s OK to ask for it. They’re not alone.”
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital psychologist Lacy Chavis, PsyD, says that the baby blues, sometimes called postpartum blues, can affect 60-80% of new moms from all backgrounds. Significant fluctuations in hormones following the birth of a child can contribute to the following symptoms:
These symptoms can last between two days to two weeks but usually peak between three to five days after delivery. Chavis cautions that a mom may have a postpartum mood disorder, such as postpartum depression, if symptoms persist for more than two weeks and become severe, including:
The good news is there are effective, “evidence-based” treatments for PPD, Chavis says, including:
If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum symptoms, get or encourage help right away. Contact your health provider. You can also get help online at Postpartum Support International if you don’t have a health care provider. Postpartum mood disorders are highly treatable, and most women feel better within a few weeks of treatment.
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