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Postpartum depression: Dealing with high expectations in childbirth

Posted at 7:36 AM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 09:55:18-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Moms can have high expectations for childbirth and their new baby's early months. Those expectations can lead to postpartum depression.

"I think that a lot of times women see the delivery as the end of their pregnancy and that's a problem," said Dr. David Colombo with maternal fetal medicine at Spectrum Health. "Because, really, postpartum depression can have onset months later, when the pregnancy is over and the kid's growing. People aren't thinking, 'Could this be related to my pregnancy?'"

Now, a new study says giving birth under general anesthesia during a c-section can increase a woman's odds of getting postpartum depression by 54 percent.

When it comes to this latest study, Dr. Colombo says you have to be careful how you interpret it. This study actually opens the conversation of a bigger picture we need to focus on.

"If you have a vaginal birth without complications it's seen as, it's like you won. You did it just right," notes Colombo. But having a more complicated birth is not a failure. During childbirth, a decision may be needed to give birth differently: "There's lots of ways to get to that outcome, and in the moment you picked the safest best way."

The study involving anesthesia shows a different route to postpartum depression. "What they thought was that women who went to sleep didn't get that initial bonding experience with their baby, which might have caused part of the problem that led to their postpartum depression," Dr. Colombo notes.

"We've known for a long time that complicated pregnancies with less optimal outcomes increase the risk for postpartum depression," he explained. And the use of anesthesia feeds into that tendency to postpartum depression. "It's not the going to sleep that's the issue, it's the reason you went to sleep." The reason anesthesia is used may be somehow perceived by the mom as a failure.

The healthcare team can help with that. "It's up to us as healthcare providers to say, to explain what we're doing and more importantly why we're doing it," said Dr. Colombo.

Still, for moms who don't have things go as planned, that can come with a lot of grief. It's important to recognize the whole journey and any increased risk during it that can impact a moms mental health.

For more resources and support that Spectrum offers before, during and after pregnancy, click here.