Postpartum Depression Clinic The First Of Its Kind For some women, the "baby blues" can turn into postpartum depression — a serious condition that can lead to hospitalization and more. On Monday, a University of North Carolina hospital in Chapel Hill will open the country's first free-standing perinatal psychiatry unit especially for these moms.

Postpartum Depression Clinic The First Of Its Kind

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JOHN YDSTIE, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie. After childbirth, most new moms will experience some form of baby blues. But for some women, those feelings persist and turn into postpartum depression. In the most severe cases, women are hospitalized. But in the United States, there's been no overnight clinic that solely treats postpartum depression -until now. Next week, a University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill will open the country's first free-standing perinatal psychiatry unit. Ann Heppermann reports.

ANN HEPPERMANN: Maria Bruno knew something was really wrong when she put her newborn son, Nicolas, down for a nap and then was too afraid to pick him up.

MARIA BRUNO: I was experiencing anger and rage and I had suicidal thoughts.

HEPPERMANN: In her desperation, she called her midwife and said:

BRUNO: I don't know what's wrong, but I can't take care of the baby and I'm miserable all of the time. And she said, well, what's wrong? Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself? And I just laughed and I said, all the time. Are you kidding me? I just need to get out.

HEPPERMANN: Maria's midwife believed Maria's life was in danger, so she called the police. They took Maria to a University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill, where she was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. The hospital had no inpatient program specifically for postpartum women, so the doctors checked Maria into the same ward that houses schizophrenics, drug addicts, and dementia patients. The staff put Maria on 24-hour high suicide alert.

BRUNO: When I pumped I had to have someone outside the door because they didn't want me to try and strangle myself with the pump parts or something ridiculous.

HEPPERMANN: Ridiculous because Maria says she never intended to act on her suicidal thoughts. She just felt overwhelmed, unable to be the capable mother she wanted to be. Chris Raines is a therapist at UNC's Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program.

CHRIS RAINES: I've had women come in here for a session and have said, all I want you to do is give me the name of an adoption agency because there's got to be a better mother out there for this baby than me.

HEPPERMANN: Raines met Maria after she transferred into outpatient therapy. Each year, Raines sees hundreds of women suffering from postpartum depression.

RAINES: They will say emphatically, I never thought about hurting my baby but I would have these thoughts that I would see my baby with knives in it. And so I've had moms that won't go by the kitchen because they're afraid that they're going to pick up a knife because they've had this thought and they don't know what it means.

HEPPERMANN: Raines assures the women these thoughts are just that, thoughts. But some health care providers who aren't trained in treating postpartum depression don't understand this. In Maria's case, the hospital staff would not allow her to see her baby at first because they feared she would hurt him.

BRUNO: I found myself asking the nurses, what is it going to take for you to let me out?

HEPPERMANN: To get released, there were rules: Maria had to stop crying; she had to take an anti-depressant; she had to go to group therapy, even though the session was for alcoholics and drug addicts. After five days, she was finally released.

BRUNO: And I can't talk about it without crying most of the time. It's in my gut. It will never escape me, that experience.

HEPPERMANN: Therapist Chris Raines says it was Maria's story that motivated her to push for an inpatient clinic, a hospital clinic where the staff understands the needs of women with postpartum depression.

Dr. SAMANTHA MELTZER-BRODY: This is the construction entrance. We can go in here, right?

HEPPERMANN: Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody directs the UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders. She's giving a tour of the clinic as it's being built.

MELTZER-BRODY: OK, so what will be here? We are going to have a five-bed unit.

HEPPERMANN: Meltzer-Brody says everything in the ward is geared to help women with postpartum depression. There are breast pumps and comfortable rocking chairs, individual therapy and family therapy. Babies will have extended visiting hours so that mom and child can create a routine, even while mom is hospitalized. It's the kind of treatment, she says, these women should expect.

MELTZER-BRODY: In the same way that women expect to go to a labor and delivery setting and deliver their baby - not in the middle of the heart clinic or not in the middle of a different ward, but in a specialty ward that takes care of women during pregnancy and postpartum. And we think the mental health services for the people that need it also needs to be appropriate.

HEPPERMANN: And Meltzer-Brody says the clinic serves as a model as to what should be happening across the country. Calls are already coming in from Michigan, Arizona and other states from women and doctors inquiring about the new clinic's services. For NPR News, I'm Ann Heppermann.

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