Postpartum Depression: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Welcoming your new baby into the world is an emotional experience like no other. But there’s one emotion many moms aren’t expecting: depression. Depression is a serious illness that can affect parents from all ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds. Let’s get to the facts about postpartum depression.

What is postpartum depression?

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Postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression) is a mood disorder that occurs in moms who have recently given birth. It’s a lot more than the so-called “baby blues”.

While many moms do feel teary, irritable or moody in the days after birth, these emotions generally improve within about 10 days. For moms with postpartum depression, emotions like sadness, anxiety and exhaustion last longer and are more intense. This can make it difficult for moms suffering from postpartum depression to care for their babies and carry about their daily life.

Although it may feel isolating, you’re not alone. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, affecting as many as 15% of new moms.1The good news is, with the right help, you will recover.

What causes postpartum depression?

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It’s not clearly known what causes postpartum depression, but it seems to include a number of complex factors working together. Some of these include:

Physical factors

After giving birth, your hormone balance undergoes a large shift. As your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop back down to their pre-pregnancy levels, it can affect your mood significantly. Levels of thyroid hormone also decline, which can take your mental and physical energy away.

Researchers believe hormonal changes could play a role in why some new moms go on to develop depression. Other physical changes, like the sleep deprivation that often goes with taking care of a new baby, may also play a role.

Personal factors

If you’ve had an episode of another mental health problem like depression or bipolar disorder in the past, you may be more likely to develop postpartum depression. Also, depression tends to run in families, so your family history of depression increases the possibility that you develop depression.

Some of the risk factors for postpartum depression include stressful situations such as not getting enough support from your partner, family and friends, and having an uncertain financial situation. However, there is sometimes no clear reason for postpartum depression.

If you’re suffering from postpartum depression, you may experience negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, such as worries about not being a “perfect mom”. You may even feel guilty or ashamed that you are not feeling happy.

But one thing is for certain: postpartum depression can happen to anyone and is not your fault in any way. It does not mean you are “bad mom”, or that you have done anything wrong.

Do I have postpartum depression? Symptom checklist

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With the right help, you can recover from postpartum depression. However, many moms don’t realize they have it, and may not seek the support they need.

Depression doesn’t look the same in everyone. For example, one mom may spend the whole day crying, but another may feel “numb”, while someone else could feel angry and irritable. But if any of the symptoms or emotions below sound familiar, talk to your doctor: they will be able to help you work out if you need treatment for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression warning signs

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or easily overwhelmed
  • Feeling moody or irritable
  • Bursting into tears
  • Losing interest in things that you usually like
  • Changes in appetite (eating more or less than before)
  • Worrying that you’re not bonding with your baby
  • Feelings of anger or rage
  • Withdrawing from your friends, partner, or family
  • Having trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Negative feelings about yourself as a mother or as a person
  • Unexplained aches and pains, headaches or stomach upsets
  • Feeling worried that you may harm your baby

Treatments for postpartum depression

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Postpartum depression doesn’t just go away on its own, but there are treatments for it. Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, it is possible to recover from depression. The treatments may include:

Psychotherapy

Talking therapies, like counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can be an effective treatment for depression. This can be combined with medications.

Antidepressants

The most common antidepressants for postpartum depression are SSRIs. These work by telling your body to hang onto more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how your brain handles emotions. If you are breastfeeding, your doctor will help you find the right prescription and dosage for you and your baby.

Fighting postpartum depression: You’re not alone

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Many women who experience feelings of sadness after the birth of a baby worry that feelings like these mean that they’re not being a “good mom”. They may even worry that their doctors will judge them, but this is not true. You don’t need to suffer through postpartum depression alone.

Remember: postpartum depression is an illness. It isn’t your fault, and it isn’t something you can just snap out of. Reaching out to a professional for help is important to help you get better. Your partner, family and friends can also help you in your recovery.