Local pediatrician weighs in breastfeeding while treating depression

NORFOLK, Va. - Is it safe for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers suffering from postpartum depression to take medication to treat it?

“No one should be telling a mother who is suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety that she has to make a choice between medication and breastfeeding,” explained CHKD pediatrician Dr. Natasha Sriraman in a recent article featured in the New York Times. “Even though there is little scientific evidence linking these medications to any harmful effects on the fetus, pregnant women are terrified.”

Dr. Sriraman further explained her take during an interview with News 3 This Morning’s Jessica Larche.

“Untreated anxiety or depression during pregnancy is actually the biggest risk factor for postpartum complications,” she said.  “We encourage moms to stay with a medication. If we know that medication actually works for them, has been working for them, why would we change it now?”

Dr. Sriraman said postpartum depression and anxiety are the most common and serious complications in childbirth, affecting up to 25 percent of mothers within the first year of childbirth.  She said 50 percent of women with postpartum depression and anxiety still go undiagnosed.

“Unfortunately, postpartum care in the United States is not ideal,” she said. “You have the baby and then you don’t see an obstetrician [until] six weeks.  So if they are screening at the six week follow up, that is quite a long amount of time to be suffering.

“That’s why we talk about pediatrician screenings, and that’s what we do at CHKD since we see them in so many intervals,” she further explained. “Depending on who they’re seeing or what practice they’re seeing, they may not be getting screened.”

Dr. Sriraman also encourages mothers to stop breastfeeding if it’s adding to their depression or anxiety.

“It’s okay to stop breastfeeding, because if it’s making your anxiety and depression even worse and it’s worsening your mental health, that’s not the best thing,” she said. “My mantra is healthy mommy, healthy baby.”

Dr. Sriraman lists signs of mood and anxiety disorders during and after pregnancy as:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, angry or overwhelmed.
  • Feeling anxious or panicky.
  • Regrets about having a baby.
  • Having trouble sleeping, even when the baby sleeps.
  • Thinking your family is better off without you.
  • Having thoughts that scare you.

She encourages mothers experiencing these symptoms to talk to you doctor, make an appointment with a therapist or mental health provider or join a support group likes those listed with Postpartum Support Virginia.  You can learn more about support groups at CHKD by calling (757) 668-7165 or emailing healthymommyhealthybaby@CHKD.org.

"Remember, this is not your fault, you are not to blame, and with help, you can get well," she said.

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