How Therapy Treats Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression

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Navigating the emotional landscape of pregnancy and the postpartum period can be a profound challenge. Amid the joy and anticipation of welcoming a new baby, some women find themselves grappling with pregnancy and postpartum depression, conditions that can deeply affect their well-being and sometimes even the bonding experience with their child. This article explores the role of therapy in treating pregnancy and postpartum depression and how it can offer hope and effective solutions if you are one of the 10-15% of new moms that experience maternal depression. By understanding how therapy works, mothers can embark on a journey toward healing and improved mental health, ensuring they don’t have to face these challenges alone.

Understanding Pregnancy and Postpartum Depression

Pregnancy depression, also known as antenatal depression and postpartum depression are types of mood disorders that can occur before and after the birth of a child. Pregnancy depression affects women during pregnancy and is characterized by persistent sadness, anxiety, and a lack of interest in life. Postpartum depression occurs after childbirth and presents similar symptoms, which can also include irritability, overwhelming fatigue, and difficulty bonding with the baby. Both conditions go beyond typical baby blues, which are milder and shorter-lived and can severely impact the ability of a mother to function and care for her child.

If you would like to read more about the baby blues read What Are The Baby Blues? By Maternal Mental Health Expert Dr. Sarah Allen.

Common symptoms of both conditions include feeling sad or hopeless, excessive crying, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, withdrawal from social activities, and possible thoughts of harming oneself or the baby. It’s crucial for expectant and new mothers to recognize these signs early to seek timely help.

The Role of Therapy in Treating Maternal Depression

Therapy offers a safe and effective treatment route for managing and overcoming pregnancy and postpartum depression. After our first appointment we can develop a plan that can include various therapeutic strategies tailored to meet your individual needs. Therapy provides a non-judgmental environment where women can express their feelings and fears and learn coping mechanisms to manage their symptoms.

One common and highly effective treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on changing the negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression. Through CBT, mothers learn to challenge their dysfunctional thoughts, replace them with more realistic ones, and develop problem-solving skills to cope with the various challenges new mothers face. Because of my many years of working with new mothers, as well as having 3 children of my own, I have a lot of knowledge of what helps during pregnancy and postpartum period as well as depression specific strategies.

CBT is evidence based to help maternal mental health but it is only one of the tools that can help. Interpersonal therapy (IPT), emphasizes interpersonal problems and is very useful for addressing relationship issues that can arise with new parents as well as broader family issues. It is based on the understanding that personal relationships are very important to overall healing.

Recent Studies on Therapy’s Effectiveness

Recent research supports the effectiveness of therapy in treating maternal depression. A study published in 2021 by the American Psychological Association highlighted that women who underwent CBT showed significantly reduced symptoms of postpartum depression compared to those who received standard postnatal care without therapy. The therapy sessions, which focused on cognitive restructuring and behavioral activation, provided the mothers with tools to better manage their mood and anxiety levels.

Another study from 2020 examined the impact of interpersonal therapy on pregnant and postpartum women. The findings indicated that participants receiving IPT experienced marked improvements in depressive symptoms and reported better functionality in their daily lives. This improvement was particularly noted in their ability to maintain relationships and fulfill family roles.

Therapy Approaches for Maternal Depression

Beyond CBT and IPT, there are other therapeutic approaches available that can assist mothers dealing with pregnancy and postpartum depression. These include:

  1. **Support Groups:** This involves meeting in person or online with other mothers experiencing similar issues. Support groups can provides a network that helps moms realize they are not alone in their struggles.
  2. **Psychoeducation:** Educating mothers about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of depression can empower them and reduce the stigma associated with these mood disorders. Partners can join our therapy appointments if you want them to and I can provide individualized psychoeducation and help them learn how to help you.
  3. **Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:** These are often incorporated into therapy sessions to help reduce stress and anxiety. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can improve overall mental health and well-being. Read my blog post Take A Deep Breath: How Deep Breathing Helps Combat Anxiety to read the breathing techniques I suggest to my clients.

The Role of Medication

In some cases, therapy might be combined with medication, especially where depression is moderate to severe. Antidepressants can be prescribed safely even during pregnancy and breastfeeding under the close supervision of a psychiatrist who has specialist training in maternal mental health. If you are considering medication I can liaise with your psychiatrist so we can all work together as a team to help you make informed decisions.

Feeling Yourself Again Is Possible

Therapy offers powerful tools for mothers battling pregnancy and postpartum depression, empowering them to regain some control over how they are feeling and start to feel themselves again. control over their thoughts and emotions. I work with mothers in person in Northbrook and virtually in Chicago and throughout Illinois and Florida as well as in the UK. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of pregnancy or postpartum depression, I have many articles on the different types of mood disorders that can affect pregnant and new parents as well as one for partners and family and friends who want to help. Please know that you are not alone in dealing with pregnancy and/or postpartum depression and treatment is effective. My aim is that together, we can overcome the challenges of maternal mental health.

Dr. Sarah Allen

Dr. Sarah Allen has 25+ years of experience helping women to transition to being the mom they want to be. She is also the Director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of IL, a non-profit she started 20 years ago that offers information & support to pregnant & postpartum women and their families. She has also published research on postpartum depression and traumatic childbirth and presented at conferences.

If you would like to work with Sarah, please phone her at 847 791-7722 or on the form below.

If you would like to read more about me and my areas of specialty,  please visit Dr. Sarah Allen Bio. Dr. Allen’s professional license only allows her to work with clients who live in IL & FL & the UK and unfortunately does not allow her to give personalized advice via email to people who are not her clients. 

    What Can I Read That Helps Me While I Am Waiting For My First Appointment With Sarah?

    If you feel that you may be experiencing pregnancy or postpartum mood disorder, or worry that you may be at risk of developing it, please download my free booklets below.

    See each specific webpage to download one or many.

    As featured in

    Warm & Knowledgeable.

    I highly recommend Dr. Allen! She is warm and so easy to talk to. She has lots of knowledge about women’s health.

    Kathryn Gardner, LCSW

    Excellent Therapist!

    Dr. Allen is a colleague of mine and she is an excellent therapist. She is warm, caring, and exceptional at her work. I refer clients to Dr. Allen and I highly recommend her if you are looking for a top notch therapist.

    Jodi Petchenik, LCSW

    Sarah Transformed Our Family’s Sleep and Sanity

    My baby didn’t sleep. She wouldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours at night and no more than 30 minutes during the day. I was completely overwhelmed and my husband and I were at each other’s throats. I was supposed to be going back to work but was barely functioning. Sarah helped us to learn how to get our baby sleeping and then she supported me in my transition back to work. She also helped my husband and I navigate how to share childcare and running the house fairly. She is a very knowledgeable therapist and has really helped us.

    Pam. L.

    Dr. Allen Helped Me to Feel More Empowered

    Dr. Allen has really helped me find my own voice. When I began therapy I would swing between being passive and doing whatever other people wanted me to do to being angry and frustrated. I have been on antidepressants for quite a few years but it wasn’t really working. Through therapy I have learned to listen to my own needs and to speak up. I used to worry that people wouldn’t like me if I didn’t agree with them but when Dr. Allen gave me the support I needed I challenged my fears. I spend a lot less time feeling angry and depressed now and I have really widened my social network. This is how I have always wanted to be but didn’t know how to get there. Dr. Allen has a very reassuring manner and makes you challenge yourself but by using small steps so you feel ready to do it. I have really come out of my shell and would recommend anyone who is feeling depressed to come and talk with her.

    Rebecca F.

    Trusted & Knowledgeable Therapist.

    When I need to refer any of my patients for talk therapy I immediately think of Dr. Allen as she is wonderful at helping people with severe and complex issues really get to the root of their problems. She is very caring and knowledgeable and I have found her extensive experience really helps people to change their lives for the better.

    Dr. Teresa Poprawski

    Dr. Allen is an expert in treating perinatal mood disorders.

    I refer as many patients as I can to Dr. Allen. She is an expert in treating perinatal mood disorders, and a well-trained and experienced therapist who is committed to working with her clients to develop a treatment plan designed for each individual. She exhibits genuine warmth, kindness and compassion for each of her clients. Dr. Allen has been a colleague of mine for more than 20 years, and I have great confidence when I refer patients to her.

    Leslie Lowell Stoutenburg

    I become empowered and a happier person.

    I began seeing Dr. Allen when my first child was around a year old. I had experienced a very traumatic birth, after a difficult pregnancy where I was on bed rest for a good portion of the time. The first year of my son’s life was spent worrying constantly. I also experienced flashbacks to the birth, which was an emergency C-section under general anesthesia. My son was in the NICU for several days following his birth, and I was not given very much information as to why. I remember thinking that he would die, or that something awful was going to happen.

    I experienced a great deal of anxiety that first year, and I thought that it was due to being a new mom. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating as normal, and I remember being worried about leaving the house or taking my baby with me anywhere. I worried constantly about illness, germs, etc.

    The first day that I saw Dr. Allen, she gave me some questionnaires to fill out before we started talking. Then we sat down and talked about my experiences with my son’s birth and the early days of his life, and the year or so since then. I remember to this day the relief that I felt when she looked at me and said that I had PPD and PTSD, which was a result of the trauma I experienced during and immediately after the birth of my son. She explained how my brain had reacted to the stress of these events, and related it to why I was feeling the way that I felt. It made so much sense. Then, she described ways that I could get over the trauma, work through the feelings, and recover from PTSD and PPD. I felt so empowered, and so happy that the way I felt had a name, and that it was treatable. It also made me feel so validated in the ways that I had felt and reacted following my son’s birth. I wasn’t going crazy. My reaction was normal and natural. And with the help of Dr. Allen, and the type of therapy that she uses, I knew I could recover.

    It is over five years since that first visit with Dr. Allen, and I still use the tools that she taught me today to deal with stress. I credit her with helping me to become a more empowered, happier person.

    Elizabeth

    Overcoming PPD with Dr. Sarah’s Support

    When I had my first baby I had what I now know was postpartum depression but I didn’t get any help. It did go away after about 18mths but it was a miserable way to begin motherhood.  When I was pregnant with my second child I started to become depressed again and this time told my OB/GYN how I was feeling and she referred me to Sarah. By starting to deal with how I felt and change the way I was handling the stresses in my life, I was in a much better place when my baby was born. The second time round my PPD was much less severe and didn’t last as long. 

    Sarah was also really helpful in teaching me ways to make the transition of becoming a big sister easier for my oldest one too.   My husband came with me for some sessions and that really helped our relationship and we started working on parenting issues together.  Sarah’s counsel and support really helped our family transition to the good place we are all in today.

    Sarah C.

    If you are thinking about getting counseling and you’d like to talk to someone about the things that are troubling you, I am happy to help.