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After baby comes, expectation and reality could be a chasm apart.

To help ensure the well-being of both mom and baby, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System has a social worker designated for women and infant services. Elizabeth McKinney, a medical social worker, helps bridge the gap between birth and home for mothers. One important issue she targets is postpartum depression. She visits, usually after delivery, with moms who may be at risk for postpartum depression, including first time and/or teen mothers, or those with a history of depression or any mental illness.

“We go over how they’ve been doing during pregnancy,” McKinney said.

Family members can also learn what to look for in the coming months.

“Some moms are surprised that the postpartum period is considered the first year after delivery,” she said.

McKinney talks with moms about the level of support they have at home and the importance of self-care, including getting adequate sleep and nutrition. She also refers mothers to online resources and a local support group of Postpartum Support International.

It is important for new mothers and their friends and family to understand the difference between “the baby blues” and postpartum depression.

“The baby blues are definitely considered normal,” McKinney said. “It affects 60 – 80 percent of new moms. It’s usually gone within two weeks after delivery.”

The baby blues can be attributed to lack of sleep, hormonal fluctuations or other factors, McKinney said.

Postpartum depression is seen in about one out of every seven mothers and can occur anytime in the first year after delivery. Moms may be tearful, withdrawn, have a difficult time bonding with the baby or have sleep or appetite disturbances.

According to Postpartum Support International, women may have symptoms such as panic and anxiety, obsessive intrusive thoughts, anger and mania, without primary depression.

“It can involve feelings of anger or guilt – not being enough or feeling like you are doing a bad job,” McKinney said.

In extreme cases, mothers may have thoughts of harming themselves or their baby. The very rare instance of postpartum psychosis occurs in one or two mothers per 1,000 deliveries, McKinney said.

“A lot of times we use postpartum depression to describe any type of mood disorder after delivery, but in reality, there is a spectrum of postpartum mood disorders,” she said.

But there is help and hope.

“The first thing is to know she is not alone,” McKinney said. “Lots of women experience postpartum depression. If a mom is concerned that she is having more days than not of experiencing this, reach out to Postpartum Support International or her obstetrician or family practitioner. They are not alone. They are not to blame if they are experiencing this. There are resources. This is something that can be overcome so they can get back to their normal selves.”

For more information about postpartum depression, contact your health care provider, visit http://www.postpartum.net or call 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD). In an emergency, call your health care provider, 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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