Postpartum depression 101

After giving birth, the last thing that most women expect to feel is depressed. Yet for nearly 15% of new moms, the symptoms of depression start to take over in the weeks or months after they’ve delivered their baby. It’s normal to feel ‘off’, or simply more emotional in the weeks following childbirth, but postpartum depression is a more serious version of this feeling. It requires attention and treatment to ensure the health of moms and their babies.

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder

A mood disorder is a psychological disorder that causes strong, noticeable changes in someone’s day-to-day emotional state. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression that affects women who have recently given birth. Experts aren’t entirely sure why it happens, but it most likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors.

Women who meet certain risk factors are more likely to experience PPD. These risk factors include:

  • A personal or family history of depression or postpartum depression
  • Stressful life-events like job loss, pregnancy complications, or other illnesses
  • If the baby has been diagnosed with health problems or special needs
  • Problems or stress in family or romantic relationships
  • A lack of support system
  • Financial worries
  • If the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted

PPD is not the same thing as the ‘baby blues’ 

The ‘baby blues’ are postpartum mood changes experienced by nearly 80% of new moms. Symptoms of the baby blues include noticeable emotional changes, crying more than normal, irritability, or anxiety. The baby blues usually persist for a couple of weeks after childbirth. In the beginning, PPD can look a lot like the baby blues, but it’s a more serious condition. It causes more severe emotions and lasts longer.

But the baby blues can feel serious too, and seeking extra support or treatment through talk therapy can help the baby blues pass more easily.

PPD has some common symptoms 

As is the case with clinical depression, certain symptoms can be red flags for PPD. Women with PPD generally experience some combination of these symptoms, but many only experience a few of them. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty bonding with the new baby
  • Withdrawing from a partner
  • Feeling uncontrollable anxiety, worry, or fear, even when things are going okay
  • Eating or sleeping too little or too much
  • Struggling to concentrate, think clearly, or make decisions
  • Losing interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Experiencing severe mood swings
  • Worrying about being a bad mother
  • Thinking about harming themselves or their babies
  • Thinking about death or suicide

PPD can last for a long time if left untreated 

Like clinical depression, postpartum depression can last for months or even years if it’s not addressed. It can negatively affect a new mother’s health, the physical health and development of her newborn, and the special relationship between mother and baby. Getting PPD diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider is just as important for the new baby as it is for the new mother.

Effective treatment is available to reduce the symptoms of PPD and to help new moms adjust to their changing lives. No new mom should ever be afraid or ashamed of seeking out assistance or support, whether from their partner, family members, friends, or a healthcare provider. Being proactive about mental and physical health is one of the most responsible things a woman can do as a new mother; it’s a good sign of the healthy years to come!

If you feel you may be in danger of hurting yourself or your child, call 911 or your local emergency response number right away. In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also offers a toll-free, 24-hour emergency number at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Read more
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum depression: Definition.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 11 2015. Web.
  • “Mood Disorders.” MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine (US), Oct 5 2016. Web.
  • “Postpartum Depression Facts.” NIMH. NIH Publication No. 13-8000 from National Institute of Mental Health, Jan 2013. Web.
  • Katherine Stone. “How Many Women Get Postpartum Depression? The Statistics on PPD.” PostpartumProgress. Postpartum Progress Inc., Oct 8 2010. Web.
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