What causes postpartum depression?

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes postpartum depression. What’s clear though, is that in most cases, postpartum depression is probably brought on by a combination of factors, instead of any single one. These factors vary, but they are often related to a woman’s physical and mental health. They can also be a product of her environment.

Physical factors

There are a couple different things that can cause changes in a woman’s physical health that make her more susceptible to postpartum depression.

  • Genetics: Depression can be inherited. Women who have histories of depression in their families are at a higher risk of experiencing it themselves.
  • Hormones: After birth, levels of estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones fluctuate in such a way that makes depression more likely.
  • Sleep deprivation: Sleep provides the body with time to rest and repair itself, and sleep deprivation has a huge effect on mood and well-being.

Emotional factors

Emotional factors play a role in the development of postpartum depression. A new mother might feel overwhelmed by taking care of a newborn, might have a negative self-image as her body recovers from pregnancy, might feel anxiety about doing something wrong, or might worry that she won’t have any free time to do things she enjoys. These are all normal feelings to have, but with the other factors that contribute to postpartum depression, they can become difficult to manage and can start to take over a new mom’s life.

Situational factors

Certain environmental factors, unrelated to a woman’s physical or mental health, can contribute to postpartum depression.

  • A loss of support from her partner, friends, or family
  • Financial troubles
  • Demanding or difficult life events
  • Substance abuse problems
  • The mother’s age, particularly if she is young
  • If the mother was unsure about the pregnancy before giving birth

It’s impossible to know ahead of time which women will experience postpartum depression, but it is good to know which factors can contribute to the condition. The earlier women notice signs of postpartum depression, the earlier they can get treatment and return to a state where they can enjoy the earliest stages of life with their little ones.

Read more
  • “Depression during and after pregnancy fact sheet.” WomensHealth. US Department of Health and Human Services, Feb 12 2016. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum depression: Causes.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 11 2015. Web.
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