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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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More than 'baby blues'

The trial of Andrea Yates, 37, the Houston mother accused of drowning her five children in June 2001, highlights postpartum depression in its various forms.

Despite scholarly controversy on whether postpartum depression even exists, much evidence shows that there are three types, says Natalie Hillman Alsop. The adjunct assistant professor of psychology at Waldorf College, Forest City, Iowa, and also clinical child psychologist at Mercy Medical Center--North Iowa, cites a medical journal, The Female Patient:

"Baby blues," the mildest form, affects 40-85 percent of mothers after delivery; postpartum depression complicates 10-15 percent of all deliveries; and postpartum psychosis affects 0.1-0.2 percent, report physicians Kathryn Leopald and Lauren Zoschnick.

"Postpartum psychosis is truly life-threatening for the mother and/or child, as hallucinations may command the mother to kill herself or others, often the child," Alsop says. It can also include delusions that "frequently focus on the infant dying or being divine or demonic," note Leopald and Zoschnick.

Yates, who has a history of postpartum psychosis, including two suicide attempts, pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense for this plea is considered difficult because the accused's state of mind during the trial may be completely different from that during the murder.

"Our medical and mental health professionals must become more aware of the symptoms and potential dangers," Alsop says. "As friends, neighbors and family members, we can assist the new mother and her family by offering support, bringing a meal, cleaning the house and listening to the new mother's apprehensions.


"We must remember that the risks aren't only for first-time mothers but actually increase for subsequent births."


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