Definition

What is postpartum depression?

It’s the type of depression you may get after you have a baby. It can start any time during your baby’s first year, but it’s most common for you to start to feel its effects during the first 3 weeks after birth.

If you have it, you might feel sad, hopeless, and guilty because you may not feel like you want to bond with, or care for, your baby.

Postpartum depression doesn’t just affect first-time moms. You can get it even if you didn’t have it when your other children were born.

How common is postpartum depression?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. In fact, more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in a year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, and epilepsy. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?

The symptoms of PPD and depression that occurs before or during pregnancy are the same. You could have PPD if you experience five or more of the following symptoms almost every day, for most of the day, for at least two consecutive weeks:

  • Extreme sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Crying all the time
  • Loss of interest or lack of enjoyment in your usual activities and hobbies
  • Trouble falling sleep at night, or trouble staying awake during the day
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much, or unintentional weight loss or weight gain
  • Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or overpowering guilt
  • Restlessness or sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling that life isn’t worth living

Other possible signs you might be depressed include:

  • Being irritable or angry
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Worrying excessively about your baby
  • Being uninterested in your baby, or unable to care for her
  • Feeling so exhausted that you’re unable to get out of bed for hours

In rare cases, some women with PPD experience delusional thoughts or hallucinations and may harm their baby.

Note: If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, this is an urgent health matter. Contact your provider immediately.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you’re feeling depressed after your baby’s birth, you may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. But if you experience any symptoms of postpartum baby blues or postpartum depression, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. If you have symptoms that suggest you may have postpartum psychosis, get help immediately.

It’s important to call your doctor as soon as possible if the signs and symptoms of depression have any of these features:

  • Don’t fade after two weeks
  • Are getting worse
  • Make it hard for you to care for your baby
  • Make it hard to complete everyday tasks
  • Include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

Causes

What causes postpartum depression?

There’s no single cause of postpartum depression, but physical and emotional issues may play a role.

  • Physical changes. After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in your body may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply — which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed.
  • Emotional issues. When you’re sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems. You may be anxious about your ability to care for a newborn. You may feel less attractive, struggle with your sense of identity or feel that you’ve lost control over your life. Any of these issues can contribute to postpartum depression.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for postpartum depression?

There are many risk factors for postpartum depression, such as:

  • You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times
  • You have bipolar disorder
  • You had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
  • You have family members who’ve had depression or other mood stability problems
  • You’ve experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss
  • Your baby has health problems or other special needs
  • You have difficulty breast-feeding
  • You’re having problems in your relationship with your spouse or significant other
  • You have a weak support system
  • You have financial problems
  • The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is postpartum depression diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually talk with you about your feelings, thoughts and mental health to distinguish between a short-term case of postpartum baby blues and a more severe form of depression. Don’t be embarrassed. Share your symptoms with your doctor so that a useful treatment plan can be created for you.

As part of your evaluation, your doctor may:

  • Ask you to complete a depression-screening questionnaire
  • Order blood tests to determine whether an underactive thyroid is contributing to your signs and symptoms
  • Order other tests, if warranted, to rule out other causes for your symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is often used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.

How is postpartum depression treated?

The treatment for PPD is the same as the treatment for depression that happens before or during pregnancy. If you have mild symptoms, your provider may recommend watchful waiting with regular check-ins. If your symptoms are more severe, your provider may recommend talk therapy, antidepressant medication, or both.

Talk therapy, also called counseling or psychotherapy, can be one-on-one with your therapist or in a group setting with other women going through a similar experience. In family or couples therapy, a therapist works with you and your partner or relatives.

Antidepressants balance the brain chemicals that regulate your mood. Talk with your provider about the different types of antidepressants – some are combined for best results. You’ll probably start to feel better after taking the medicine for three or four weeks.

Antidepressants can cause side effects, but most will resolve after a short time. If you experience side effects that interfere with your daily life, or if your depression gets worse, let your provider know right away.

Some women have very severe PPD that doesn’t respond to talk therapy or medication. In this case, a healthcare provider may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In this treatment, small electrical currents are passed through the brain while the patient is under general anesthesia. Experts believe this electrical stimulation causes chemical changes in the brain that relieve depression symptoms.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage postpartum depression?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with postpartum depression:

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Include physical activity, such as a walk with your baby, in your daily routine. Try to get adequate rest. Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol.
  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything. Scale back your expectations for the perfect household. Do what you can and leave the rest.
  • Make time for yourself. If you feel like the world is coming down around you, take some time for yourself. Get dressed, leave the house, and visit a friend or run an errand. Or schedule some time alone with your partner.
  • Avoid isolation. Talk with your partner, family and friends about how you’re feeling. Ask other mothers about their experiences. Breaking the isolation may help you feel human again.
  • Ask for help. Try to open up to the people close to you and let them know you need help. If someone offers to baby-sit so you can take a break, take them up on it. If you can sleep, take a nap, or maybe you can catch a movie or meet for coffee with friends.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 6, 2017 | Last Modified: July 6, 2017

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