The U.S.'s First Postpartum Depression Clinic

Evolving Care: Women Get Access to Specialty Treatment

The U.S.'s First Postpartum Depression Clinic

By Depression Connect StaffA Published at September 13, 2011 Views 3,453 Comments 1 Likes 1

A University of North Carolina hospital in Chapel Hill is opening the country's first freestanding psychiatry unit for women suffering from postpartum depression – a move specialists say should be emulated nationally.

The UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders will be an inpatient hospital clinic where the staff understands the special needs of women with postpartum depression.

“Baby blues,” or feelings of moodiness, lethargy or being overwhelmed, are common after giving birth and often fade after a few weeks.

Postpartum depression, however, is a serious illness that, if left untreated, can result in sleep disturbance, changes in appetite and feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness as well as suicidal thoughts or actions. The condition, thought to be brought on by changes in hormone levels that occur after pregnancy, can make it hard to care for and bond with the new baby.

In rare cases, women may have postpartum psychosis, where they may act strangely, hallucinate and be a threat to themselves and their baby.

Often times, when women who are suffering from postpartum depression seek help, they may find themselves thrown into a one-size-fits-all system that, at best, doesn’t help them – or, at worst, could exacerbate their problem.

Because hospitals have no inpatient program specifically for postpartum women, they may be checked into the same everyday psych wards that house schizophrenics, drug addicts and dementia patients.

There, she might receive treatment from health care providers who may have no experience in this area, and be subject to the same rules of stay and requirements for release as other patients. She may be told to take certain drugs, or made to go to group therapy – even if it’s designed for entirely different needs. She may not be allowed to see her baby at first because they fear she will hurt him or her.

This sort of treatment, specialists say, keeps some women from seeking help for fear of being institutionalized and separated from their child. Coupled with the stigma of not being blissful and happy in the post-birth months, this can create a dangerous atmosphere of silence.

Chris Raines, a therapist at UNC's Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, sees hundreds of women suffering from postpartum depression each year. She was one who pushed for the new inpatient clinic – a special place to meet the very specific needs of postpartum women.

The UNC center will include breast pumps and rocking chairs, and babies will have extended visiting hours to allow mom and child to still establish connection and routine, even when mom is hospitalized. There will be group and individual therapy options.

The center’s founders say the clinic serves as a model for what should be happening across the country, and have received calls from other places interested in following their model.

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