Understanding Postpartum Depression

The birth of a child is a wonderful event, and triggers many emotions. Most women experience some anxiety about caring for an infant and the responsibility a baby brings. But for some women, giving birth sends their emotions into a darker place, causing depression.

Postpartum depression is more than just the “baby blues”–those mood swings and crying spells caused by hormonal changes. Those quickly fade but postpartum depression lingers, and usually requires professional help to be resolved. Here are some common ways to tell the difference between postpartum depression and baby blues:


Baby Blues

The baby blues usually last only a few days or weeks; symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Crying
  • Decreased concentration
  • Trouble sleeping

    Postpartum Depression  

The symptoms for postpartum depression can be similar to the baby blues, but usually are more intense and last longer. They can also interfere with the mother’s ability to care for her baby or cope with daily life. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insom nia
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Taking no pleasure in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swings
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and social contact
  • Untreated, postpartum depression can last a year or more.
    Signs of postpartum depression usually develop within four weeks of giving birth.

Impacts to Mother and Family

Sometimes postpartum depression can lead to a chronic depressive disorder. Even with treatment, postpartum depression can increase a woman’s risk for depression in the future. However, your doctor can help you identify possible triggers and signs to watch for so that such occurrences can possibly be avoided, minimized or treated as soon as possible if they do occur.

Postpartum depression affects the entire family. Left untreated, it can interfere with long-term mother-child bonding and cause future family problems. Children of depressed mothers are more likely to have behavioral problems such as difficulty sleeping and eating, frequent tantrums, and hyperactivity. Delays in language development are also common.

Postpartum depression can erode the bond between couples and dissolve relationships.

Common Causes

Postpartum depression can be caused by a number of physical, emotional and lifestyle issues. Here are some examples:

Physical: After childbirth, your body experiences a dramatic drop in hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone. This drop can contribute to postpartum depression. Your thyroid hormones can also dip significantly, leaving you tired and depressed. Changes in your immune system, metabolism, blood volume and blood pressure can also contribute to fatigue and mood swings.

Emotional: If you are tired, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Even minor problems can seem too much to cope with. As a new mother, you may be worried about caring for a new baby. You may not feel ready to be a mother or you may be concerned about your appearance. Some women feel that they no longer have control over their own lives–they feel like everything now and for years to come revolves around the child. These kinds of feelings can lead to postpartum depression.

Lifestyle: A new baby changes everyone’s schedule. These changes can be exhausting initially –even more so, if there are also other children in the family who also need attention. Some women have difficulty breast-feeding–which creates stress. Others may feel that their partners are not providing enough help with care of the baby, household, or other children. And some families are burdened with financial worries. All of these items can trigger postpartum depression.

Are You at Risk?

Postpartum depression can develop after the birth of any child, not just the first one. You may be at risk if you have these factors:

  • You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times
  • You had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
  • You have experienced stressful events during the past year–such as illness, loss of job, or pregnancy complications
  • You are having problems in your relationship with your spouse or significant other
  • You don’t have a strong support system to help you
  • You have financial problems
  • The pregnancy was unwanted or unplanned

The risk of postpartum depression is also higher for women with bipolar disorder.


If you have symptoms of postpartum depression, call your doctor–do not let shame or anxiety stop you. Postpartum depression is common–it is NOT your fault. But do get treatment as soon as possible.

Your doctor may suggest a referral to a psychiatrist and/or therapist to help you find better ways to cope with your feelings, solve problems and set realistic goals. Sometimes, having your spouse or family members attend such sessions with you can be helpful, too.

Medication may also be prescribed. Antidepressants are a proven treatment for postpartum depression, although if you are breast feeding you need to be aware that any medication you take will enter your breast milk. However, some antidepressants can be used during breast feeding with little risk of side effects for your baby. Your doctor can advise you.

Often, a combination of counseling, medication and lifestyle changes is recommended. With appropriate treatment, postpartum depression can wane within a few months. However, it is important to continue treatment even after you feel better. Stopping treatment too early can lead to a relapse.

What You Can Do

Postpartum depression does require professional treatment, but there are some things you can do that can help enhance the healing process.

  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine–a walk, going to the gym–anything that gets you moving.
  • Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol.
  • Lower your expectations–don’t expect to run the perfect household at this time. Don’t put pressure on yourself to accomplish an unrealistic list of tasks. Do what you can and don’t worry about the rest.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help–with errands, childcare, getting meals–whatever needs doing.
  • Make time for yourself. Take a break to do something you enjoy; be sure to keep connected socially. Make time for your partner.
  • Avoid being alone too much. Talk with your family and friends about how you are feeling and encourage visits. Also make sure you get dressed and go out. Talk with other mothers about their experiences. Your doctor may be able to recommend support groups for postpartum mothers or new mothers.

With proper treatment, you, too can be enjoying this special time in your life as you welcome your new baby. Bullet

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