After pregnancy and birth, many people just can’t wait to get back to normal, but it can be really hard to know what’s normal with a new baby in the mix. And it’s common for the road to “normal” to involve some tough moments, like experiencing the “baby blues” or another condition called postpartum depression.
What are the baby blues?
The “baby blues” can affect up to 80% of new mothers or birthing parents, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The baby blues occur most commonly within the first two weeks following delivery and can involve feelings of sadness or moodiness. The symptoms do not interfere with the way new parents live their lives and often resolve on their own. Although the baby blues can make a person feel depressed, a clinical diagnosis of postpartum depression requires a different set of criteria. Having the baby blues does increase the risk of postpartum depression and may progress to postpartum depression if these feelings last beyond two weeks and start to have an impact on your day-to-day functioning.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a deep feeling of sadness or despair in new moms and birthing parents, and is far more intense than the mood swings or crying that many notice in the days or weeks after giving birth. In rare cases, people can experience a more serious condition known as postpartum psychosis in the weeks following birth.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
Although the symptoms can vary from person to person, these are some common ones to look out for:
- Feeling overly anxious or worried
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of interest in things you usually like
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Energy loss or fatigue
- Concentration problems
- Appetite change
- Trouble socializing with family, friends, or baby
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or baby
What causes postpartum depression?
Researchers are unable to pinpoint exactly what causes postpartum depression, though there are many possible contributing factors, such as rapid hormonal shifts after childbirth, sleep deprivation, change in psychosocial stressors, and a changed sense of self and responsibilities. Healthcare providers have discovered some risk factors involved with the onset of postpartum depression — although it quite often seems to be just the (bad) luck of the draw:
- History of depression, bipolar disorder, other mental illness
- Personal or family history of postpartum depression
- Those who struggled with a crisis or had a complication during pregnancy and/or shortly after birth
- Those who are or feel unsupported during and after pregnancy
- Those with financial or personal problems
- Those who struggle with a substance use disorder
Tips for postpartum depression
If you believe you have or are at risk for postpartum depression, it’s best to call your healthcare provider right away. Postpartum depression is slightly different in nature than regular depression, so it’s important to have somebody knowledgeable guide you through it. Talk to your partner, friends, or other family about your depression if you need to, as bouncing your feelings off people is a great way to begin the recovery process.
It’s also important to know that, while the clinical definition has fairly strict parameters, the experience of depression after giving birth often doesn’t start in the first few days, weeks, or even months after delivery. In fact, postpartum depression can occur any time in the first year or so after having your little one. It’s also possible for a non-birthing parent to develop postpartum depression — this includes dads, adoptive parents, and foster parents.
The bottom line
Postpartum depression is a very serious condition that can have wide-ranging effects on the whole family, so you should call your healthcare provider if you begin to suspect that you may be developing postpartum depression. Early intervention and treatment is the best way to get in front of postpartum depression and help manage its effects.
- “Postpartum Depression Facts.” NIMH. NIH Publication No. 13-8000, National Institutes of Mental Health, NIH, HHS, Jun 2016. Web.
- Dorothy K Sit, Katherine L Wisner. “The Identification of Postpartum Depression.” Clin Obstet Gynecol. 52(3):456-468. Web. Sep 2009.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum depression.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. August 11, 2015. Web.