Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

For New Moms: Innovations in Treating Postpartum Depression

At Allegheny Health Network, new mothers receive specialized treatment for a condition many have suffered through in secret.




Dr. Sarah Homitsky (right) meets with patient Erin Benacquista and her 7-month-old daughter Daphne at the Women’s Perinatal Psychiatry Program at West Penn Hospital | Photos by Martha Rial
 

Erin Benacquista’s mind was racing. Late one Saturday evening, her 1-month-old baby, Daphne, had a temperature of 99.6 degrees. She couldn’t escape the fear that something could be seriously wrong. She decided to have her pediatrician paged.

The doctor called her back and listened to her concerns.

“I’m not worried,” the pediatrician told her. “You should not be worried.”  

After all, the temperature was only one degree above normal.

That’s when it struck her — she was suffering from anxiety about her baby. It was the first time that Benacquista, who lives in Ross Township, had experienced that kind of worry; it hadn’t struck five years prior when she was a first-time mom.

Her obstetrician recommended West Penn Hospital’s program for women suffering from pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. Benacquista says the therapy and support she has received there has helped her to enjoy her baby without being weighed down by the dull ache of worry. She brings Daphne, now 7 months, to the sessions.

“Worrying about a 99-degree temperature is no way to spend your day,” Benacquista says. “This is a real resource for women. I truly cannot say enough about the staff.”

​Benacquista attends weekly counseling sessions; other new mothers whose depression may not respond to traditional therapy attend the Intensive Outpatient Program at West Penn Hospital, part of the Allegheny Health Network. The more intensive program opened in November as part of an emerging method of treatment now in place at about 15 hospitals nationwide. It treats pregnant women suffering from depression as well as new mothers, babies in tow, who attend three-hour sessions three times a week.  
 



 

Women with postpartum depression often experience crying, insomnia, fatigue, appetite changes, loss of enjoyment in activities, anxiety and difficulty forming an attachment to their babies. For women with severe cases, once-a-week sessions available through some programs may not bring them relief from severe depression or anxiety, according to Dr. Sarah Homitsky, medical director for the Women’s Perinatal Psychiatry Program at West Penn Hospital.

Even though postpartum depression occurs after an estimated 15 percent of all births, mothers often hide their despair because of expectations that they should be awash in a maternal glow.

“There is this sense that this should be the happiest time of your life,” says Homitsky. “It’s like, ‘How could you be sad? You have everything you want.’ That just fosters hopelessness and guilt [in] women who are doing their best. They say, ‘I am the worst mother in the world. I’m never going to be good at this.’’’

Instead of feeling maternal bliss, sometimes mothers settle in with their newborns and find themselves overwhelmed. “They feel guilty for making mistakes throughout the day, being forgetful and not anticipating things,” says David Rizzo, a social worker at the program. “Self-blame is often unwarranted. We consider alternative perspectives. We help them establish effective skills to push back against depression and anxiety.”

The program allows staff to observe women with their babies and tailor the program to each woman’s needs. Mothers also are taught how to massage their babies and hold them in a way that enhances bonding. The depression and anxiety may be treated through a combination of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, meditation and light therapy. 

For Benacquista, counseling with Rizzo helped her to slow down her anxious thoughts. She learned mindfulness and grounding techniques to break free from her emotional state — concentrating on something factual, such as mentally going through the steps of making a recipe for dinner. The staff’s familiarity with the issue of postpartum anxiety also was reassuring. “I felt like David knew what I was going to say before I said it. They have such vast experience with this issue.”

Though Benacquista’s husband is supportive, other new mothers have to navigate strains in interpersonal relationships. The arrival of a new family member may disrupt routines or change dynamics; this can put significant strain on a marriage.

“We might bring in the partner for a discussion — it would be valuable to your wife’s well-being if you took care of the overnight feeding and you let her get five hours of uninterrupted sleep,” Homitsky says. “We offer to incorporate partners, grandparents, other relatives.”
 



 

Other times they use role-play to help women communicate what they need to family members. “We are talking about day-to-day things,” Homitsky says.
Many women benefit from group discussions with other women going through the same kind of pain.

Though model and television host Chrissy Teigen recently revealed that she was so overwhelmed by postpartum depression that she could barely leave the house, many new mothers keep it a secret, increasing their feelings of isolation and despair.

“It is incredibly valuable to have other women provide validation,” Homitsky says. In fact, graduates of the six- to eight-week program often cite the group sessions as the most valuable component in their feedback. “They can relate to other patients’ stories. Peer mentorship is really important.

“Treatment really does work,” Homitsky says. Unfortunately, she adds, only 6 percent of women diagnosed with postpartum depression will receive adequate treatment; only 16 percent will even initiate it.  

The risks of leaving postpartum depression without treatment are high, including the potential for harmful effects on the baby’s ability to grow and hit cognitive milestones.

To get more women the treatment they need, Allegheny Health Network medical practices screen women for depression and bipolar disorder three times — from pregnancy through delivery and after birth. Depression during pregnancy is a strong indicator that a woman is at higher risk for postpartum depression. Those who show signs of depression can be connected immediately with a health care professional and sometimes are candidates for the Intensive Outpatient Program.

For Benacquista, the therapy at West Penn has made all of the difference, and she has referred other new mothers to the program.

Daphne is thriving, too. On a recent visit, her pediatrician said she is hitting all of her milestones.

“And you haven’t been calling me anymore on Saturday nights,” the doctor says.  

​Benacquista nodded her head. “I feel so much better.”
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” art exhibit intends to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.

Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

The matriarch of the family is the perfect place to look for a meaningful something old.

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

Allegheny Health Network is the latest employer in the region to raise its company-wide minimum wage.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in July

We eat for a good cause with Leo's Sunday Sauce, wonder what took us so long to get to Lola Bistro and hit the main menu at Muddy Waters. Plus, we go offline with Dave Anoia of DiAnoia's Eatery.

Lidia Bastianich Shares Her American Dream in a New Memoir

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein talks to the celebrated chef, restauranteur, television host and author about grandparents, foraging and the plight of refugees seeking a better life in the United States.

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

The Homestead Artist with a Worldwide Reputation

Jesse Best maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo. But, he says, Pittsburgh has been 10 times better to him than any other place.

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Sprout Fund Passes the Torch

50 Pittsburghers to receive $1,000 Legacy Award to carry on the nonprofit’s vision.

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Pirates Pitcher Steven Brault has Pretty Good Pipes Too

The Pirates reliever sang the national anthem Tuesday night before the Bucs hosted the Brewers at PNC Park. It's worth watching, especially for his teammates' reaction at the end.

Crime in the South Side Has Fallen Dramatically

Illegal activity plunged along East Carson Street following several new security measures.

Fired by City Paper — Charlie Deitch Won’t Be Silenced

The former editor of the Pittsburgh alt-weekly is creating his own "more inclusive" publication.

Czechoslovakia was Forged in Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak details how the establishment of the European nation began with a meeting Downtown.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” art exhibit intends to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.

Comments

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

Allegheny Health Network is the latest employer in the region to raise its company-wide minimum wage.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

Reflecting on the loss of a person so many of us admired.

Comments

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Chef You Shan Pei comes to Pittsburgh after cooking in Flushing, N.Y. restaurants for 18 years.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

Looking to show off your Pittsburgh love? Get your favorite city printed on basically anything at these local shops.

Comments

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

When you're craving the real deal, these local spots consistently churn out the very best.

Comments


The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

In "Will Work For Views," the video artist and musician Weird Paul is a little bit Dr. Demento and a little bit Mister Rogers.

Comments

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

The relaunched entertainment complex in Harmarville is casting a wide net, with some success.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Comments

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk found out last August, in the wake of a six-hour surgery that removed 14 inches of his colon and “a tumor the size of my fist,” the severity of what he was suddenly confronting.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary about Fred Rogers' work and philosophy inspires even more wonder about the television legend who called Pittsburgh home.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

The matriarch of the family is the perfect place to look for a meaningful something old.

Comments

Toppers That Take the Cake

Toppers That Take the Cake

Over the traditional bride and groom standing on top of your cake? Try some of these different ideas for cake toppers.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

Paying homage to the restorative power of nature, this deep green shade is one to watch in the coming year. Here’s how to use it on your walls.

Comments

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

From furniture to wall art and beyond, these local makers created one-of-a-kind pieces for your home or office.

Comments