Women's Health Week: Everything you need to know about postpartum health

postpartum depression
Posted at 8:24 AM, May 14, 2021

DETROIT — Stephanie Gerber experienced what felt like constant fears her newborn son would die in his sleep, or that something might happen to her.

They were negative thoughts she simply couldn't turn off and they started about four months after the birth of her first son.

“When you’re in it, you have these blinders on and you can’t see past it, it’s consuming," Gerber said.

Gerber, a Michigan mother of three boys, is talking about postpartum anxiety, a rare but serious condition that can occur weeks or even months after a baby is born.

“It was debilitating," Gerber said. "Most of my panic attacks and anxiety happened at night while I was sleeping. So I would wake up in a state of panic. Well, then that resulted in me not even wanting to go to bed.”

Sleep deprivation mixed with postpartum anxiety was traumatic, and something Gerber felt she wasn't prepared for. She battled it not once, but twice.

Focusing on women's mental health for Women's Health Week

Unlike the "baby blues," a short-term emotional dip in the two weeks after a baby is born, postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression can last for much longer and are much more serious. They are also more rare.

“Up to 80-85% of women are going to experience 'baby blues,'" said Dr. Samara Gibson, an OBGYN at Detroit Medical Center's Sinai-Grace Hospital. “Postpartum depression is when you are literally not yourself."

According to CDC data, about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. experience postpartum depression symptoms, which can include:

  • Lasting sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
  • Feelings of irritability or restlessness.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities.
  • Loss of energy.
  • Problems concentrating, recalling details, and making decisions.
  • Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping too much.
  • Overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
  • Aches or pains that do not get better with treatment.

Jill Reiter is a postpartum douala in Detroit and owner of The After Baby Lady. Unlike a midwife, doualas are not medically trained.

“We’re really there for emotional and physical support," Reiter said.

That support, she said, is something many people don't realize is important after the baby arrives too. A douala can help not only moms, but also new dads.

“Making sure that you’re getting enough rest, someone is feeding you, helping you maybe with things around the house," Reiter said.

It's those little things that new moms and dads tend to focus too much on, Gibson said. Getting enough rest is always more important than completing chores.

Her advice? Always sleep when the baby sleeps.

Gerber used a postpartum douala after the birth of her second son, when she again experienced postpartum anxiety. She said that mixed with connecting with other mothers going through the same thing, it really helped her recover.

“If I didn’t have that, I don’t know how long I would have been stuck in that state of despair," Gerber said.

Postpartum pre-eclampsia is another rare but serious condition, Gibson said.

“During the pregnancy the mother’s blood pressure could or could not be high. But postpartum meaning after the baby is born, the blood pressures tend to go up," Gibson said.

The condition can turn into something much worse if not caught early and treated.

“Your body tends to have seizures, possibly even a stroke, bleeding disorders, so it’s a very serious condition," Gibson said.

Thankfully, if a women delivers in the hospital it's usually caught early. As for postpartum anxiety and depression, along with any postpartum concerns Gibson stresses the importance of speaking honestly with your doctor.

Click here for more helpful resources from the CDC and The After Baby Lady.

This story was originally published by Jenn Schanz on Scripps station WXYZ in Detroit.