Postpartum depression can be debilitating for moms and devastating for babies. It can rob them both of the ability to connect at a time when that’s crucial. Some data show that Hispanic women are at higher risk for postpartum depression. On this week’s The Pulse, we hear from a unique program in Providence where more Latina moms are seeking help.
First signs of postpartum depression
This is how Aliez Roman was feeling after the birth of her second child: “I couldn’t sleep at night. A lot of racing thoughts.
Ircaña Reyes experienced the same despair. “I wasn’t getting up from bed. I didn’t want to deal with anybody," she recalls.
Aliez Roman and Ircaña Reyes recognized the signs of postpartum depression.
Now, they’re both patients in a Women and Infants hospital program. It’s one of only a few in the country to that lets moms and babies attend treatment together. That was a big draw for both women. Roman says it also helped her overcome resistance to getting help.
“First you have to realize that you need the help. Then you have to accept the help and then really push yourself to getting the help" says Roman. "Because you feel like, ok, I’m a mother, I need to be able to juggle all these things and I don’t have time for me. I need to get all of this done.”
Layer on top of that the attitudes she finds in her culture about mental illness.
“Especially with the older women, it’s like, 'You’re not depressed, you’re just, overwhelmed, you just need to get out the house. There’s no such thing as being depressed.'”
You should be happy, they say, you have a new baby. Or this comment from a friend:
“Someone had told me, oh how was your first day at the crazy hospital? So it was kind of like, I know you’re kind of joking, but you’re not joking," says Roman.
Fellow patient Ircaña Reyes says she worried about that label, too. She worried about telling people about her depression, fearing someone would take her children away from her, or that she’d have a permanent “mark” on her record. She doesn’t even want her family to know about her treatment.
“I don’t really tell them what’s going on. But my mom knows. And she always says the same: ‘Now you’re going to get treated like you’re crazy. The baby’s going to be hooked on meds.” So it’s like whatever. You don’t talk to them about it.”
Askiing for help wasn't easy, but it was essential
But both Reyes and Roman say they had to do something to get better – for themselves and their children. They felt too out of control to go on – and they knew their babies might suffer too. Women and infants psychologist Shannon Erisman is one of their doctors.
“We know that moms who are depressed don’t interact with baby in the same way. So they don’t make eye contact as frequently with baby. They don’t spontaneously vocalize, sing to baby, talk to baby and they’re not as responsive to baby’s cues.”
The Women and Infants program provides group and individual therapy, and allows professionals to observe mom and baby interacting so they can encourage bonding. Erisman says she’s noticed a growing number of Latinas in the program. She’s not sure why, but she says one reason may be that they’re at higher risk for postpartum depression. Another might be Providence’s unique program.
“Rhode Island is a small place and we have so many people who are coming through the program and hopefully having a good experience – at least that’s what they’re telling us. So I think their communities are learning that this is a safe place," says Erisman.
Plus, there’s a national movement toward more screening for postpartum depression.
“So more OB GYNs are screening, particularly at postpartum visits. And we also have some pediatricians who are screening when mom comes in for well-baby visits. So it’s improving. But certainly not all offices do this and many don’t do this during the pregnancy period.”
Psychiatrist Rhoda Seplowitz agrees. She’s in private practice in Houston.
“I would say it’s becoming more common in academic centers. But it’s not necessarily, I don’t see it in private practice.”
Risk factors for postpartum depression higher for Latinas, but also for poor women
A few years ago, Seplowitz studied the records of thousands of minority women who had given birth at a particular hospital. She wanted to know how many had sought treatment for mental illness.
“How many of those women had a psychiatric diagnosis or psychiatric encounter after childbirth were very low. And you would expect a much higher rate. Maybe 15 percent would be a conservative estimate."
Researchers estimate about 15 to 20 percent of white women suffer from postpartum depression. And the number could be double for Latinas. Why? It may not necessarily have anything to do with being Latina. Seplowitz says the things that keep poor women from accessing health care are the same things that put them at risk for postpartum depression.
“It’s having social isolation, or a language barrier, or not enough money to pay for pre-natal care, or food, or transportation are risk factors for postpartum depression," says Seplowitz.
And for Aliez Roman, it’s just tough to ask for help – especially when your culture expects so much of mothers.
“It’s like you’re supposed to be able to run your household. So if you’re going to be a stay-at-home mom well, you’re in charge of the cooking, cleaning, taking care of your husband when he comes home, making sure he has everything he needs.”
Now she’s coming to terms with the fact that she has to take care of herself in order to take care of her family.
More resources on postpartum depression:
- Think you have postpartum depression? Try this screening tool from Women and Infants Hospital.
- More information about Women and Infants partial day hospital program for postpartum depression (one of only a few in the country that lets mothers bring babies)
- More resources, general information about postpartum depression