Postpartum depression occurs in about 10% of new mothers.
While it is normal for a woman to have feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, and even anger for a few days after the birth of a baby, postpartum depression is a more severe problem that often requires treatment.
Is It Baby Blues Or Postpartum Depression?
Most women experience brief periods of what is known as “baby blues” after they give birth.
They may feel anxious and angry with their partners, the new baby or other children.
They may cry for no apparent reason, have difficulty sleeping, eating or making decisions and question whether they are able to care for a baby.
If these feelings are intense and do not go away after a day or so, the woman may be experiencing postpartum depression symptoms.
Typically, symptoms of postpartum depression appear a week to three weeks after delivery. It does not matter how old a woman is or how many other children she has.
Any woman can experience postpartum depression.
However the disorder seems to occur more frequently in women who have a history of clinical depression and those who have additional stresses, such as the recent loss of a loved one, a move to a new town or lack of social support.
Signs of postpartum depression include:
- Strong feelings of sadness or anger
- Helplessness, guilt or significant doubt in the ability to be a good mother
- Changes in appetite
- Inability to care of self or baby
- Difficulty doing everyday tasks
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Intense worry about the baby
- Loss of interest or pleasure, including lack of interest in the new baby
- Fear of being left alone with the baby or fear of hurting the baby
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Why Does Postpartum Depression Occur?
Like any form of depression, there are a number of factor that may predispose a woman to postpartum depression.
One major contributor is the fluctuation in hormones that occurs when a woman is pregnant and gives birth.
In the hours after delivery, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone decrease rapidly, and women who are especially sensitive to hormonal shifts may experience symptoms of postpartum depression related to these sharp changes in hormone levels.
The effects of the changes in hormone levels may combine with other causes, such as a genetic tendency toward depression, excessive stress or social and emotional issues.
A woman’s usual way of managing stress may also play a role in whether or not she develops postpartum depression.
In addition, feelings of doubt about motherhood, especially if the pregnancy was not planned, can contribute to the development of postpartum depression as well.
A new mother may also experience feelings of loss after having a baby, and these feelings can contribute to the development of postpartum depression.
The feelings may be related to loss of freedom, loss of time with her partner or loss of her old identity.
A new mother may also find herself disappointed that certain “myths” of motherhood do not turn out to be realities in her experience.
For example, buying into the idea that motherhood is instinctive or that a woman will instantly and magically bond with her “perfect” baby may set a new mother up for disappointment that contributes to postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression Treatment
For the most part, postpartum depression can be treated the same way any type of depression is treated.
Treatment can be tailored to an individual woman’s specific needs. In some cases, medication may be necessary; however, if a woman is breastfeeding, certain medications may not be appropriate.
In addition, some studies suggest that estrogen therapy may be helpful as a medical intervention for the treatment of postpartum depression if shifts in hormone levels are suspected as a major cause of the condition.
If a woman has unrealistic expectations about the experience of motherhood, counseling may be helpful in dealing with postpartum depression.
Also, getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet and finding time for exercise may help alleviate some depression symptoms.
Social and emotional support is critical for a woman who is suffering from postpartum depression.
Having understanding friends and loved ones around who can help care for the baby may give a woman a chance to focus on managing the issues that may be causing her depression.
In End Your Depression, you will find a more detailed description of postpartum depression, including a section that describes how to distinguish it from the “baby blues.”
You will also read about a rare and very serious form of postpartum depression known as postpartum psychosis.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression after recently given birth, you can use End Your Depression as a guide to identifying and understanding depression as well as managing specific symptoms.