Postpartum depression, or what some call “baby blues” is a specific experience of depression after women give birth. It is important to recognize that baby blues is not the same as postpartum depression. The symptoms of postpartum depression are intense and can be long-lasting. They can impact a mother’s ability to care for her child and bond with her child. Postpartum depression symptoms can also develop before the birth of a baby. Postpartum depression affects between 10 and 20 percent of new mothers.

Postpartum Depression Defined

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme anxiety, sadness, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or others.

Postpartum Depression Causes

There is no single cause for postpartum depression, and more than likely is caused by a combination of physical changes and emotional issues. Between the considerable drop in hormones after childbirth in the body, sleep deprivation, and being overwhelmed, these factors may contribute to postpartum depression. New mothers may be anxious about their ability to care for a newborn, they may feel less attractive, struggle with a sense of identity or feel that they’ve lost control over their life. Any of these issues can contribute to postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

There are various symptoms related to postpartum depression.

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Restlessness Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyed
  • Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Hopelessness
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

 

How to Approach a Loved One

There is not a perfect way to approach a loved one that you assume or know has postpartum depression, but they are usually the first to recognize the symptoms in their loved one. Encouraging a loved one to speak with a medical or mental health professional can be helpful. Offering emotional support and assisting with daily tasks such as caring for the baby or the home may also help support a loved one with postpartum depression. If you are concerned about your loved one’s safety, please call 911 immediately.

Types of Postpartum Depression Treatment

Treating postpartum depression usually includes psychotherapy and sometimes can include the use of medication. It is important to distinguish the best course of treatment individually.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling is an effective treatment in which individuals struggling with postpartum depression can develop healthy coping skills to manage their feelings. Individuals may also use the space to talk through their concerns and feelings related to their postpartum depression. With appropriate treatment, postpartum depression symptoms usually improve. In some cases, postpartum depression can continue, which can turn into chronic depression. It is important to continue treatment after beginning to feel better, and there is the potential that stopping treatment too early may lead to a relapse.

Family Therapy 

This form of therapy can support the individual, as well as the family in regards to how postpartum depression affects the family unit. It can provide the family with skills on how to resolve issues that arise and healthily communicate with each other. Family therapy also provides the individual with the support needed for their recovery.

Medications

The most common form of medication used to reduce postpartum depression symptoms are antidepressants.  It is important to consult with a medical doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits of specific antidepressants.

Resources

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
(5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

Perinatal depression. (n.d). Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/perinatal-depression#causes

Postpartum Depression Health Center. (n.d). Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/depression/postpartum-depression/default.htm

Postpartum Depression Fact. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

Postpartum Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617