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What Is Postpartum Depression?


Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can cause feelings of severe sadness, fatigue, and anxiety, beginning during pregnancy or any time during the first year after childbirth. Mothers often feel intense emotions that can severely affect their ability to care for themselves and their infant, altering their relationship with their child.

Postpartum Depression is Not The Blues

Many women experience the “baby blues” after childbirth. This is a mild change in mood or feelings that leaves the mother feeling sad, unhappy, frustrated, or tearful. This occurs within the first two weeks after the baby is born and passes quickly.

Such feelings are often associated with the changes and exhaustion associated with having a new baby and lack of sleep. If these symptoms are severe or last longer than two weeks, you might have postpartum depression.

Who Is At Risk?

One in seven women may be at risk of developing postpartum depression. Pregnancy and delivery can be stressful, which raises this risk. Do not exclude surrogates and biological mothers in cases of adoption or infant loss, though they often do not care for the baby after delivery.

Family members are encouraged to be supportive and remain mindful of signs and symptoms, providing help if needed. Mothers without supportive family and friends are therefore at higher risk.

Fathers can also experience symptoms of postpartum depression, and may notice fatigue, altered sleep, or eating difficulties within the first year. This risk also increases in fathers with a history of depression.

What Increases The Risk?

Mothers who have depression and anxiety before childbirth are at increased risk of developing postpartum depression, especially those who encounter symptoms during pregnancy.

Risks may come from one of several areas:

  • History of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, including domestic violence
  • Emergency cesarean section or hospitalization during pregnancy or delivery
  • A difficult or traumatic delivery
  • Lack of support
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Poor eating, sleep, or exercise habits

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

These can vary from person to person. While a history of depression can play a part, other factors can add to the mix.

Causes may include:

  • Hormonal changes. Altered estrogen and progesterone can cause mood changes and take time to return to normal
  • Physical changes that occur during pregnancy and delivery
  • Life stress, such as work, family or financial needs
  • Emotional demands of having a baby and adapting to a new way of life
  • Family history of depression, bipolar, or perinatal depression
  • Fatigue
  • Relationship expectations

What Are The Symptoms?

Symptoms can start within six weeks after the baby is born, but may occur at any time in the first year. Be mindful not to overlook signs if the onset occurs later on. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can last for years.

Mothers may notice one or several of the following symptoms:

  1. Thoughts or fear of harming oneself or the baby
  2. Thoughts of suicide or death
  3. Feeling sad, depressed, alone, hopeless, scared, guilty, or irritable
  4. Lack of interest in or feelings of kinship with the baby, or feelings of anxiety around it
  5. Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, handling daily tasks, or problems with memory
  6. Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  7. Changes in appetite
  8. Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  9. Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  10. Restlessness or inability to sit still
  11. Being tearful or crying without reason

If any of these symptoms arise, mothers are encouraged to notify their healthcare provider immediately. Symptoms can worsen and might not be resolved without help. If the family witnesses any, they should encourage the mother to seek help.

How Is It Treated?

Treatment is essential for the wellbeing of both mother and baby. Mothers risk inadequately bonding with their infant if proper treatment is not received. As a result, this can negatively affect their relationship and potentially cause health problems for both mother and child.

Therapy and medication can reduce symptoms and improve the mother’s function, mood, and outcome. Therapies include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or group therapies. Antidepressant medications decrease symptoms by improving how the brain absorbs the chemicals used to control mood.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can also be treated with medication when necessary, but it is important to seek medical advice.

Reach Out

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have concerns about postpartum depression, contact a healthcare provider. It is a severe medical condition that needs attention and support. You are not at fault, and you are not alone.

If you are concerned for a spouse, partner, family member, or friend who has recently had a baby, encourage her to ask for help and speak with a healthcare provider, while offering support during this challenging time.

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