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Learn more about treatment for postpartum depression at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that affects women after childbirth. Like clinical depression, postpartum depression causes women to experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and exhaustion that can make it difficult for them to fulfill daily needs and care for themselves and others. It may cause women to feel like they can’t or don’t want to bond with or care for their child.
Postpartum depression can develop any time during the first year after birth, but it most commonly affects mothers during the first three weeks after birth. It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between postpartum depression and the normal stress and exhaustion of being a new parent. Many women experience some symptoms of depression after childbirth, but these “baby blues” are not severe and generally go away within a few days or a week. Postpartum depression symptoms are prolonged and severe. If you experience strong negative feelings, such as sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest, that interfere with daily life and last for prolonged periods of time – for weeks or even months – you may have postpartum depression.
While the exact cause of postpartum depression is not known, hormonal and physical changes after birth and the stress of caring for a newborn may play a role. Women who previously experienced depression have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.
It is important to seek out help and speak with your doctor if you experience signs or symptoms of depression during your pregnancy. Untreated depression can worsen and pose more risk to you and your child.
Around 10 percent of new mothers develop postpartum depression. A study of 10,000 mothers with newborns found that around 1 in 7 developed postpartum depression. However, these actual numbers could be even higher, because many people who struggle with depression are reluctant to admit it or seek treatment.
Symptoms of clinical depression and postpartum depression are the same. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin up to six months after birth. You may have postpartum depression if you experience the following symptoms for most of the day, every day, for at least two consecutive weeks:
In rare cases, some women with postpartum depression experience delusional thoughts or hallucinations, paranoia, and obsessions, and may harm their baby. This is called postpartum psychosis and requires immediate treatment.
Postpartum depression can develop due to a combination of hormonal, environmental, emotional, and genetic factors. Some women who experience postpartum depression have a history of major depression prior to or during pregnancy. Changes such as sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion and emotional adjustments, while normal after giving birth and caring for a newborn, can also contribute to the development of postpartum depression.
Unlike depression that is unrelated to pregnancy, postpartum depression is linked to unique hormonal changes that occur after childbirth. Sudden changes in hormone levels after delivering a baby can trigger depression in women who are more sensitive to shifts in estrogen and progesterone.
While any new mother can experience postpartum depression, some women are at a higher risk. Risk factors for postpartum depression include:
If you think you are struggling with postpartum depression, the first and most important step you can take is seeking help. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms and issues. Only your doctor can diagnose you with postpartum depression. He or she can recommend treatment that would be best suited to you and your child. Treatment methods for depression during pregnancy may include:
Making changes at home may also help you manage your depression symptoms. Speak with your partner, family, or friends about your issues and ask for support. Allow yourself to relax, slow down, cut down on chores and tasks, and put your health and well-being first. Taking care of yourself is vital to taking care of baby. Some other changes that may help manage depression symptoms include:
If you have any symptoms of depression, call your doctor to set up an appointment to discuss your issues and treatment options.
If you find yourself having frequent or obsessive thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, or other symptoms of postpartum psychosis [ I think this is the first time this word is used, and it seems stronger and less “normal” than depression. Are we sure we want to use it without definition or explanation? Scary word.], contact your doctor or emergency services immediately.
It's important to call your doctor as soon as possible if your depression symptoms exhibit any of these features:
Seeking help is the best step you can take to ensuring that you and your child stay safe and healthy.