A moderate to severe depressive episode suffered by mothers that have just given birth is called postpartum depression. An estimated 10% to 15% of new mothers will suffer from this form of depression and if left untreated it can last for weeks, months or even years. It may not be evident right away and may not develop until a year after having a child, a stillbirth or a miscarriage. Giving birth causes a women’s hormone levels to fluctuate drastically and it can lead to wild mood swings and a heightened emotional state. These dramatic changes can leave a woman vulnerable to postpartum depression.
It is crucial to know the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options so that proper help can be sought in a timely manner should you or a loved one suffer from this type of depression.
Postpartum depression is different than and should not be confused with the normal “baby blues” that is frequently experienced by new mothers. By some estimates, up to75% of women will have these “baby blues” within the first two weeks after giving birth and they may include feelings of being overwhelmed, brought to tears rather easily, irritability, sadness and an inability to sleep. Since this is a common event for new mothers it is not considered a disorder or an illness and it usually passes in a few days to a couple of weeks.
Symptoms for postpartum depression are similar to the common depression symptoms discussed on the main page. A few additional symptoms may also be experienced as well. Along with the usual symptoms a new mother with postpartum depression may also exhibit the following:
- Unable to care for the baby or herself
- Have little to no interest in the baby or conversely worry excessively about the baby
- Have thoughts of harming the baby (though rarely acted on)
- Negative thoughts towards the baby
- Scared to be alone with the infant
There may be physical medical conditions that produce depression, such as hypothyroidism. It is encouraged to have your doctor perform blood and other tests to rule out any illness or underlying condition that may be the cause your depression. A new mother who experiences any of the above symptoms combined with other depression symptoms should not wait to inform their health care provider.
While the cause of this particular type of depression is not known, there are certain risk factors that may contribute to postpartum depression.
- A family history of depression or mental illness
- A personal history of depression or mental illness, those who have suffered a depressive episode previously may be at increased risk
- A previous episode of postpartum depression after the birth of an earlier child
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Economic hardship before or during pregnancy
- Single mothers
- Had a traumatic or stressful experience during the pregnancy such as the death of a loved one
- Those with little to no family or other support system during pregnancy
- Those who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth
- If after the baby is born it is constantly sick or fighting a particular illness or complication
Having any of the above risk factors does not mean someone will definitely develop postpartum depression, it just means they may be more susceptible. The opposite is true as well, not having any of the above risk factors does not mean someone cannot develop it.
Postpartum Depression Treatment
Treatment for this type of depression may include depression medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy) or a combination of both depending on how severe the depression is. There are certain types of antidepressants that are recommended and safe for breastfeeding mothers. There are also specific types of talk therapy that are effective for postpartum depression such as interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Any new mother concerned they might be showing signs of postpartum depression is highly encouraged not to wait to speak to their doctor or find a mental health care provider in their area.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition, but it is also the most serious and involves delusions and hallucinations or both. A new mother is more likely to act on her thoughts of hurting her child if suffering from this disorder. Anyone suspected of having postpartum psychosis should seek immediate help.
When To Seek Help?
Anyone who thinks they or a loved one may be suffering from postpartum depression is advised to seek professional help as soon as possible. If the “baby blues” do not subside after at least 2 weeks, if you cannot take care of your baby or yourself or your depression symptoms become more severe do not be ashamed to seek help.
Suicide is always a risk in severe cases of depression. If you are worried for your baby’s or your own health and our having thoughts of suicide please call 911 or your local emergency center and ask for immediate help. You can also call the national suicide hotline (US) 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
A new baby can be quite overwhelming and with the changes a women’s body goes through during pregnancy and child birth it may leave them vulnerable to developing this type of depression. Knowing what to be on the lookout for during and after pregnancy can go along way towards preventing and quickly treating postpartum depression. Don’t be ashamed or scared to ask for help.
Below is a video further detailing postpartum depression.