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‘I just knew I needed help,’ new mom says

Statewide campaign for pregnancy-related depression and anxiety provides ways to help


The week following Amanda Hawthorne’s first pregnancy was good. But the day her mother, who had been helping, returned to work, Hawthorne’s emotional state quickly declined.

She slept because she was so exhausted. She paced back and forth because of anxiety. She felt depressed and manic all at once, she remembers, and had little interest in her daughter.

So she hired a babysitter and confided in her family. And then she went to see a psychiatrist.

“I had to hand my child over because I couldn’t take care of either one of us,” said Hawthorne, 34, a Wheat Ridge resident who has a history of bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. “I didn’t know what do — I just knew I needed help.”

A support system comprised of family and friends helped most, she said. Creating such support systems is the goal of a campaign run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in partnership with Postpartum Support International, an organization that increases awareness about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum.

The educational campaign, launched last October, brings awareness to symptoms of pregnancy-related depression and anxiety —which occur in one in seven new mothers during or after giving birth — and provides resources for help. Though pregnancy-related depression and anxiety cannot be fixed overnight, the department of public healthsays it can be treated through self-care, support groups, therapy or counseling and medication when necessary.

‘No one reason’ exists

Postpartum depression and anxiety are not the same as “baby blues,” which are mild feelings of sadness, worry and fatigue that may accompany new mothers in the week or two after pregnancy and typically resolve on their own.

Symptoms of pregnancy-related depression and anxiety can appear anytime during pregnancy or in the year following birth and may include feelings of anger or irritability, lack of interest in the baby, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, loss of interest or joy and possible thoughts of harming the baby or oneself.

Some mothers find it difficultto address these feelings and instead hide them,said Mandy Bakulski, maternal wellness and early childhood supervisor of the department of public health. In today’s faster-paced society, there is an expectation that women should return to leading the lives they did pre-pregnancy, said Bakulski, adding that it’s hard to ask for help.

“There is a cultural expectation that having a baby should be one of the happiest times of a woman’s life,” she said. “The reality is there is an entirely new human being in their life that takes time and caring.”

There is no one reason for pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, according to the department of public health. Symptoms are caused by a combination of psychological, social and biological stressors. People with a personal or family history of mood or anxiety disorders and sensitivity to hormonal changes are more likely to be at risk.

That was the case for Hawthorne, who said she was informed by her midwife that because of her history of mental illness, she had a higher chance of having postpartum depression.

Bakulski recommends medical providers use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a 10-item questionnaire quickly administered in a clinical setting that helps doctors screen for risk of postpartum depression.

“It’s a way for providers to hear and learn from women who might be more at risk,” said Bakulski.“There can be social or psychological issues that were either present or brought on by the pregnancy.”

New moms ‘are not alone’

It’s critical for women to know they are not alone, moms and experts in the maternal field say. It’s also important for partners, families and friends of new moms to be aware of signs and symptoms of pregnancy-related depression and anxiety.

A Highlands Ranch mother, who would like her name withheld for privacy reasons, lost her first child, who was stillborn, and experienced postpartum anxiety with her second child. Her feelings included constant worry and unease over improbable things, like losing her husband of 15 years. She found solace in having a community to rely on, which included her husband, friends, obstetrician and a women’s support group at her church.

“Don’t be afraid to tell someone how you feel, even if you think it is small,” she said. “Just find somebody you can talk to, anybody that you feel comfortable enough to call.”

For mothers who don’t have a strong support network, Postpartum Support International has volunteer coordinators across the Denver metro area to assist in finding help and resources, such as local support groups. The free, confidential phone line is available in English or Spanish for moms or dads, 24 hours, seven days a week.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmentpartnered with the organization to provide moms and their families and support systems more access to resources on pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, according to Bakulski.

“It is hard — every day can be a struggle as a new mom,” she said. “Being patient and understanding from a support side is so critical.”


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