Every new mother feels the worry of something bad happening to their child, but for one out of every three pregnancies, postpartum depression or anxiety is another reality that often goes undiagnosed.
“Women feel a stigma with the depression and they’ll struggle in silence,” said Natasha Montroy, a Royal Oak-based naturopathic doctor specializing in women’s health. “One in three is not a small number and we need to start educating women … talking about it in a real, open manner.”
Next month, Montroy and colleague Jody Watson, also a naturopathic doctor at Vancouver Island Naturopathic Clinic, host a one-night course on postpartum depression and anxiety. The course is designed to educate new or expectant mothers and their partners about preventative strategies and treatment options for postpartum depression and anxiety.
“It often affects a mother’s self esteem, her relationship with her partner or other relationships, her confidence in parenting and, at times, may affect bonding with her child,” Montroy said.
The focus of the course is preventative.
Acupuncture, botanical medicines, nutrition and counselling form a part of the course’s holistic approach, but its mandate is to provide all treatment options available to women. Resources available in Greater Victoria include counselling sessions, mom-and-babe exercise programs, support groups and referral services developed through the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
“We’re certainly not anti-medication,” Montroy said. “There are times when we recommend anti-depressants, but what we do is review all options and how to guide yourself along that path.”
Another option will soon be available as Watson works with Camosun College in developing an online continuing education course centred on postpartum depression and anxiety. The program will include a live chat component, as well as self care and tips for partners. It will come at a cost of about $120 and is slated for a late-summer start, although the details have yet to be confirmed.
“Even people who don’t get postpartum will struggle those first few months,” Watson said. “They’re not alone with how they’re feeling and it’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed.”
Montroy and Watson’s course is the first of its kind to be offered at the Saanich Commonwealth Place and plays into the centre’s larger goals of contributing to mother and babe well-being.
“We have an overall health and wellness strategy. We see a tie-in between mental, social and physical health and one of the things that (Montroy) promotes is exercise,” said Adam Richards, recreation programmer at Saanich Commonwealth Place.
Commonwealth is the only centre to offer child minding, while at Gordon Head Recreation Centre, a new program, Babes in the Weight Room, allows parents to bring strollers right into the gym with them while they workout. Commonwealth also offers Baby Waterfit, a class designed for parents and their children aged 6 to 18 months.
Saanich Recreation, as a municipal service, is trying to meet the needs of an entire community, whether it’s the needs of older adults, people with special needs or new parents, Richard added, noting a definite intention to provide for mothers who are staying at home and those who had young babes in recent years.
The postpartum depression workshop costs $15 and runs from 7:30 to 9 p.m. April 19. Registration for all courses mentioned are available online at recreation.saanich.ca/reconline.
Depression isn’t any more common during the postpartum period than it is at any other time – about seven per cent of pregnant women will suffer from postpartum depression, whereas the occurrence of anxiety disorders in pregnant women is much greater at about 20 to 25 per cent, according to Nichole Fairbrother, professor with the Island Medical Program and director of the Mother-Infant Wellness Lab at B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre in Vancouver.
If not treated, however, women who have anxiety are prone to developing depression as a result.
“Because we’re so used to thinking about things in terms of depression, it’s what people focus on, then the fact that the person started out with an anxiety disorder gets ignored and they don’t get treatment for it,” Fairbrother said, adding that anxiety is easier to treat than depression.
Fairbrother’s research also covers postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, characterized by a mother’s unwanted thoughts of harm happening to her baby, either in the form of accidents happening to her baby or unwanted thoughts of hurting her baby herself.
“Everybody gets quite worked up about (postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder) and people get worried that they may be at risk of harming their child. We’ve found everybody has some thoughts of ‘what if something bad happens to my baby.’”
Half of the women within Fairbrother’s latest research sample of about 350 mothers reported unwanted thoughts of purposely harming their babies.