In the first days and weeks after childbirth, a new mother goes through a variety of emotions. She may feel many wonderful feelings including awe, joy and bliss. She may also experience difficult feelings, including sadness. Sad feelings and crying bouts that follow childbirth are known as the “baby blues.” The baby blues are common and tend to decrease within a week or two. This type of sadness is often attributed to the dramatic hormonal changes that follow childbirth.

Around one in seven women will experience something more extreme than the typical baby blues. Women that give birth and struggle with sadness, anxiety or worry for several weeks or more may have postpartum depression (PPD). While the baby blues tend to pass quickly, PPD can be long-lasting and severely affect a woman’s ability to get through her daily routine.

What are the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 20 percent of new mothers experience one or more symptoms of postpartum depression. Similar to other types of depression, PPD can include a number of symptoms:

  • Feeling down or depressed for most of the day for several weeks or more
  • Feeling distant and withdrawn from family and friends
  • A loss of interest in activities (including sex)
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Feeling tired most of the day
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Having feelings of anxiety, worry, panic attacks or racing thoughts

Postpartum depression symptoms may start in the first few weeks following childbirth. Sometimes, symptoms of PPD do not begin until months after birth.

Postpartum psychosis is a related mental health condition that can also develop after childbirth. This rare and serious condition includes symptoms of hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), paranoia, and, at times, thoughts of harming one’s self or others. Some mothers have frequent thoughts about harming their children.

If you are experiencing signs of postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis, please tell someone. These conditions can be effectively treated and often respond best when treatment is started right away.

What causes postpartum depression?

A number of factors can lead to postpartum depression. Women with a history of depression and other mental health conditions face a higher risk of PPD. The following factors can also increase one’s risk:

  • Hormonal changes that follow childbirth
  • Emotional stressors, including financial strain, job changes, illness, or the death of a loved one
  • Changes in social relationships, or lack of a strong support network
  • Raising a child with special needs or an infant that is challenging to care for
  • Having a family history of mental health issues

While some women are predisposed to experiencing postpartum depression, PPD can affect anyone, including women who experience a normal delivery and give birth to a healthy child.

Since a personal history of depression can increase the risk of postpartum depression, let your doctor know if you have struggled with depression or anxiety in the past. By taking special precautions, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing PPD.

How is postpartum depression treated?

If you are having symptoms of postpartum depression, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Your doctor may recommend that you meet regularly with a counselor or that you start taking antidepressant medications. Often, both types of treatment are recommended. While PPD does, at times, go away on its own, symptoms usually go away more quickly with the help of medication and talk therapy.

Lifestyle changes can also help to reduce some symptoms of postpartum depression. The following strategies may help you manage the increased stress that accompanies new parenthood:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Finding time to exercise
  • Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of family and friends
  • Eating regular, nourishing meals
  • Asking others to watch your child so that you can have a much-needed break

Also, many hospitals offer support groups for new mothers. Staffed by women’s health experts, this is a great place to share your feelings in a safe, supportive place with other women who understand what you are going through. Ask your doctor about new mother support groups in your town.

You can take steps to feel better

The adjustment to motherhood can be very stressful as you learn to navigate your new role, balancing care for yourself and an infant (and possibly other children and family members). This can be demanding, exhausting and overwhelming. If you are a new mom with feelings of anxiety or depression, you may even feel guilty or ashamed. It is important to know that postpartum depression is not your fault. Postpartum depression is a medical condition that can be treated. By sharing your feelings with a professional, you will be on your way to making positive changes that will have a big impact on your daily well-being.

Other Resources

An authoritative introduction to Post-partum Depression.

The basic facts about Post-partum Depression.

Lactation and drug safety.

Heal Your Brain: How the New Neuropsychiatry Can Help You Go from Better to Well. (An important book)

Endocrinology and Post-partum Depression.

Psychiatric medications when breastfeeding.

An online test for Post-partum Depression.

Abstracts of scientific articles on the treatment of women with Posat-partum Depression.

An NIH study on the interaction between mothers and their children.

This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression. (An important book)

Breastfeeding with Post-partum Depression.

Antidepressants and breastfeeding: A MEDLINE search.

A support group for women with depression and their families.

Post-partum Depression and ECT.

Lots of information on Past-partum Depression

Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression. (An important book)

An on-line Post-partum Depression support group.

A Mother’s Tears : Understanding the Mood Swings That Follow Childbirth. (An important book)

Lots of good information on pregnancy and depression.

Post-partum stress.

Prozac and breastfeeding.

Estrogen for Post-partum Psychosis.

The estrogen patch as a treatment for post-partum depression.

Overcoming Postpartum Depression & Anxiety. (An important book)

Estrogen for women with Post-partum Depression.

References


1. Mayo Clinic: PPD
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/definition/con-20029130?p=1

2. APA: PPD
http://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-dep.aspx

3. CDC: PPD
http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/