Postpartum depression is a medical condition that is developed by as many as one in seven women either preceding or after childbirth. This condition is caused by chemicals, hormones and other factors that affect the brain of a woman who gives birth. It has nothing to do with being a good or loving mother.
70-80% of new mothers experience feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed after giving birth - the “baby blues.” While these feelings usually get better within two to four weeks after childbirth, you should speak to your doctor about how you feel right away so that you can be monitored for postpartum depression.
This condition can occur whether it is your first child or a subsequent child, and whether or not you’ve ever experienced it before. It is important to be observant for the signs of postpartum depression and talk to your doctor about your symptoms immediately. In rare cases, postpartum psychosis can develop, a condition that requires emergency treatment.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Life changes, lack of sleep, childcare burdens, physical discomfort, hormonal changes - all of these factors can contribute to postpartum depression. If your symptoms do not improve after two to four weeks, or your condition grows more severe, you and your doctor may need to find a more intensive way to treat it. You may be experiencing postpartum depression if you have:
- A feeling of detachment from people or a desire for isolation from family and friends
- An inability to bond with your baby
- Feeling like your baby deserves better than you or that you are not a good mother
- Thoughts of running away or wanting to escape
- Feelings of sadness and emptiness or episodes of excessive crying
- Trouble controlling your temper or lashing out in anger
- Extreme anxiety, irritability, or moodiness
- An ongoing feeling that you are overwhelmed
- Difficulty sleeping (either oversleeping or not sleeping at all), fatigue, and exhaustion
- Trouble enjoying the things you once found fun
- Noticeable changes in appetite leading to unusual weight gain or weight loss
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing, forgetfulness
- Other common symptoms of depression
Postpartum psychosis is a rare and extremely dangerous condition that can develop. Call your doctor or counselor immediately if you experience:
- Unstoppable thoughts, plans, urges, or visions of harming yourself, your baby, or others
- Delusions or “hearing voices” that tell you to harm yourself, your baby, or others
- Paranoia or feelings of excessive suspicion
- Sudden strange beliefs about your child, yourself, or others
- Uncontrollable racing thoughts or mania
- Episodes of severe confusion or panic
Causes and Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression
The physical, hormonal, and emotional changes caused by childbirth and new motherhood can contribute to the development of postpartum depression. Certain risk factors can also make you more likely to develop this condition, including:
- A previous history or family history of depression, anxiety, or mental illness
- Trauma or significant life events occurring before, during, or after your pregnancy
- Medical complications during your pregnancy or childbirth or with your child’s health
- Lack of support from your family and friends
If you are taking medication for a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or psychosis, do not stop taking your medication when you become pregnant without talking to your doctor. The risk of many medications affecting your baby is low, but the risk of you becoming ill from stopping your medication suddenly is high.
Treatment for Postpartum Depression
A combination of psychotherapy, self-care, and medication can be effective in treating postpartum depression. You should talk to your doctor or therapist to find the right treatment plan for you.
Medication: Many medications are available to help treat postpartum depression. Antidepressants are the most common types of medications used to treat this condition, but they can take time to be effective. Talk to your doctor about your medication options and how to find what works best for you.
Therapy: Many types of therapy are effective when treating postpartum depression including individual talk therapy, group therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Discuss what type of therapy is best for you with your doctor. Learn more about therapy options from Sheppard Pratt.
Self-care: Self-care is an important part of your plan to treat postpartum depression. Self-care includes things like massage, exercise, a regular sleep schedule, eating healthy food, learning to manage stress, and just taking some time for yourself every day. Your doctor or therapist can help you design a treatment program that includes self-care.
Education and support: Tell your family and friends that you need help - support from your family and friends is important when working towards your recovery. A support group, either in person on online, may be helpful to you during treatment and recovery. A list of support groups offered at Sheppard Pratt campuses can be found here.