What if a medication designed to help keep you
mentally healthy also prevented you from bonding with your new baby? It turns
out medications for postpartum depression, namely antidepressants, may have
this startling effect on some new moms.
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects one in eight women in
the United States and can seriously impair a mother’s ability to care for
herself and her child. Symptoms of PPD include withdrawal
from family and friends, a loss of interest in activities, extreme emotions
like rage, sadness and guilt, frequent bouts of crying, difficulty bonding with a new
baby—and they typically last longer than a few weeks.
Treatment with psychiatric
medication is widely seen as an important step in keeping a new mother healthy
and safe, but that same treatment may also inhibit her ability to connect with
Known as "SSRI-induced apathy syndrome," the dulling of emotions caused by some
antidepressants isn’t widely understood. In fact, little research has been done
to study this problematic symptom of what is considered standard postpartum
depressive therapy. Most cited studies are well over a decade old, and give little insight into why some women receiving treatment for PPD develop apathy while others don't.
A 2004 study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that 20 percent of the patients evaluated with depression who took antidepressants reported feelings of apathy. Another
study by researchers from the Department of Behavioral
Health and Psychiatry at North Colorado Medical Center found evidence that the side effect of apathy in patients with depression who took antidepressants was likely
dependent upon their medication dosage, and—the best news of all—totally reversible.
The major question, then, is whether or not moms
who are diagnosed with postpartum depression should avoid taking prescribed antidepressant
Avoiding treatment of postpartum
depression isn’t a viable option.
Dr. Amy Salisbury, a professor of pediatrics and
psychiatry for Alpert Medical School at Brown University doesn’t think avoiding
treatment is the solution. The risks of untreated depression are
far greater than the potential negative side effects from antidepressant
medication, she told the New York Times. While she points out that every diagnosis is unique, there are
checks and balances to prevent new moms from feeling emotionally unattached
from her child. Careful supervision by a qualified psychiatrist and cautious
dosing, along with frequent check-ups to evaluate the efficacy of the
medication, are all necessary in making sure moms are receiving the proper
treatment for PPD.
Avoiding treatment of postpartum
depression isn’t a viable option. In 2016, friends and family were stunned
when 32-year-old Allison Goldstein dropped her 4-month-old infant off at
daycare and then took her own life.
In an email to her friends and family, drafted shortly before her suicide, the new
mother apologized for not knowing how to describe the pain she was feeling, and
most importantly, how to get help.
While symptoms of postpartum depression can be
overwhelming, the good news is that they are treatable and with the right
medical and psychological help, moms who are suffering can find much-needed relief. Although it
may sound scary to take a medication that could have the potential to hinder a mother’s ability to feel
close to her own child, it isn’t anywhere near as awful as the pain a family
would feel if they lost their mother to suicide caused by PPD.
The solution, while not always simple, is awareness. It's important that moms recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression and feel comfortable speaking up if they notice any sense of disconnect or an inability to bond with their newborn. Medical professionals are trained to help moms get the best treatment possible so they can develop a natural, healthy maternal bond with their child.