Medical Community Highlights Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is the most common complication for women after giving birth. And there are still significant gaps in medical and psychiatric care for women with the illness. Laurie Johnson has more.
Postpartum depression gained national notoriety as a serious illness after Andrea Yates drowned her five young children in 2001.

Her conviction, retrial and ultimate verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity brought attention to a disease that is still frequently misunderstood.

George Parnham was Yates defense attorney.

"I'm struck by the fact that it is so easy for us in the criminal justice system to condemn an act such as Andrea's acts without going behind the surface in trying to understand why."

Parnham says out of that tragedy has grown a better understanding of women's mental health. Parnham is speaking at the Postpartum Support International conference, held in Houston this week.

Dr. Lucy Puryear is an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and testified as an expert witness at Yates' trial. She says more women are being diagnosed with postpartum depression, but there's a significant shortage of adequately trained professionals to treat them.

"So as we increase our ability to diagnose and recognize these conditions, there's really a lack of care out there. And that's probably our next biggest challenge for all psychiatric illness, not just women's health, is to find health care professionals available to treat these women."

To that end, hundreds of local medical professionals are at the conference. The primary focus is how to reach out to women and their families about the disease. Texas Children's Hospital plans to open a Maternity Center, where residents and staff will be trained to look for signs of postpartum depression. And Puryear says family members and doctors in private practice need to know what to look for as well.

"It's common to have baby blues for the first two weeks, but if tearfulness and not feeling well and not sleeping well continue after two weeks that's a cause for concern. Also one of the other major symptoms that new mothers and their families may notice is that mothers with postpartum depression have a real emotional detachment from their infant, which is one reason they don't talk about it. There's a lot of guilt about not being excited about having that new baby at home."

About 15 percent of mothers will develop postpartum depression. It's the most common complication after giving birth.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...