Postpartum depression is very common and treatable, but women going through it often feel hopeless and alone. Also called peripartum depression, it can begin in pregnancy or anytime in the first year after giving birth. Hormones, major lifestyle changes, role changes, changes to family structure, and a lack of sleep contribute to the condition.
Symptoms include sadness and anxiety, trouble bonding with your baby, and thoughts of harming your baby or yourself. Moms and other birthing parents* may have difficulty sleeping or feel more tired than expected. They might also be less interested in activities they used to love.
Therapy during the peripartum period can allow moms to learn to use coping strategies to use throughout the parenting journey. Strategies may include reframing thoughts, behavioral activation, meditation, or sharing feelings with a loved one.
You may need therapy during the peripartum period for many weeks, a few months, or longer. This depends on how you respond to therapy and how serious your depression is. (If therapy doesn’t seem to work at all, finding a new therapist might help. So could talking to a doctor about medication.)
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Individual Peripartum Therapy
Both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy can help women overcome anxiety and depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you recognize thought patterns and change how you respond to situations.
For example, you might think, “I’m failing because I missed an appointment.” CBT helps you be gentle with yourself and recognize mistakes are an expected part of life. Interpersonal therapy focuses on improving a one’s relationships and communication skills. The therapist helps you express your feelings in healthy ways and get support from friends and family.
Therapy during pregnancy and postpartum can help women to be better able to bond with their children. It also helps to lowers stress and improves mood. This is a two-way street, as therapy has also been shown to benefit the children of moms seeking therapy. One study found that toddlers had better emotional control if their mothers received therapy.
Both in-person and virtual therapy offer these benefits, so patients should choose the option they prefer and which works best for them.
Group Peripartum Therapy
In group peripartum therapy, new moms talk about their fears and challenges together. The therapist helps women notice how they respond to stress and use better coping methods. The therapist also helps women to see how their thoughts can feed depression and how to challenge these negative thoughts.
Many women find it a relief to hear that they’re not alone in their thoughts, sadness, and anxiety. Group therapy helps to remove the shame of peripartum depression.
How to Find a Peripartum Therapist or Support Group
Your doctor or midwife can refer you to a therapist who focuses on peripartum depression. They can connect you with support groups too.
Another great resource is Postpartum Support International. This website offers a list of support groups and volunteers in each state to help you find therapy.
Ask your therapist about the type of therapy they provide and their experience with peripartum depression. Many therapists will offer a free phone consult so you can see if they’re right for you. Sometimes you might feel more connected to one therapist than another, for example.
You should also check with your health insurance to see if they have a list of covered providers.
Peripartum therapy has helped thousands of women find joy in their lives again and connect more with their children and loved ones. Help is just a phone call away.
To make an appointment with Magee-Womens Behavioral Health Services, call 412-641-1238.
*Not all birthing parents identify as women or mothers. At UPMC Magee we interchangeably use the terms mother and birthing parent. We have a long history supporting women and have a commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. Transmasculine birthing parents are welcome at Magee.
Dr. Shaziya Allarakha. What are the benefits of therapy? MedicineNet. Link
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Postpartum depression. Link
Dr. Elizabeth Handley et al. Developmental cascade effects of interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed mothers. Development and Psychopathology. Link
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Postpartum depression. Link
Postpartum Support International. Get Help: United States. Link
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.