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The Baby Boost

Reveals how babies are helping their moms recover from depression. The ten percent of new mothers who suffer major depression within weeks or months of giving birth; The Postpartum Well-Being Program directed by Stephanie von Ammon Cavanaugh at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center (Chicago); How mothers benefit from interaction with their babies; The program's success.

For 10 percent of new mothers the joy of childbirth gives way to major depression within weeks or months. If not treated, these women not only suffer from the usual symptoms of the disorder--anxiety, hopelessness, and loss of self-worth--but also may have trouble forming a bond with their baby. And that can stunt a child's emotional and mental development.

Now, a team of Chicago doctors has enlisted some very special people to hell depressed new moms: their own babies.

"We try to preserve the mother-baby bond as well as promote the integration of the entire family during the course of the mental illness," reports psychiatrist Stephanie von Ammon Cavanaugh, M.D., who the Postpartum Well-Being Program at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

Unlike traditional therapy, which relies on individual counseling, the program encourages mothers to bring in and interact with their babies as much as possible. The baby acts as a "powerful stimulus," helping depressed moms combat the intrusive thoughts they often have about intentionally harming their child, while building up their confidence as nurturers. Husbands and kids also get counseling to confront feelings of resentment and guilt that can overwhelm families coping with a depressed parent.

So far, the program has been quite successful, says Cavanaugh. With treatment, more than 80 percent of women with postpartum depression can recover completely within one year. Without help, only 25 to 30 percent improve and those who don't may have babies who grow up wetting the bed, having a lower I.Q., and crying more often.

PHOTO: Mother and child