Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, is a type of mood disorder occurs in women soon after giving birth. It’s common for women to experience the “baby blues”, extreme sadness, low energy, anxiety, crying episodes, irritability, and changes in sleeping or eating patterns, following their baby’s birth. But some women, up to 1 in 7, experience a much more serious mood disorder.
The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect — depression.
But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth.
Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms — and enjoy your baby.
Here’s what you need to know about this common, yet entirely treatable, condition.
When does it occur?
Your recovering body may be vulnerable to certain infections after you have a baby. Some postpartum infections actually begin brewing during labor, though they often don’t become apparent for days – or even weeks – after delivery. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth but may begin later — up to six months after birth.
What does it feel like?
There’s no single cause of postpartum depression, but physical and emotional issues may play a role.
- Physical changes. After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in your body may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply — which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed.
- Emotional issues. When you’re sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems. You may be anxious about your ability to care for a newborn. You may feel less attractive, struggle with your sense of identity or feel that you’ve lost control over your life. Any of these issues can contribute to postpartum depression.
Who’s at risk?
Women with a personal or family history of depression or mood or anxiety disorders are more likely to develop PPD, as are those who experience significant mood-related changes related to their menstrual cycles. But perhaps the biggest risk factor is having had PPD with a previous pregnancy—especially if it was untreated.
When to see a doctor
If you’re feeling depressed after your baby’s birth, you may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. But if you experience any symptoms of postpartum baby blues or postpartum depression, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. If you have symptoms that suggest you may have postpartum psychosis, get help immediately.
How is it treated?
Treatment and recovery time varies, depending on the severity of your depression and your individual needs. If you have an underactive thyroid or an underlying illness, your doctor may treat those conditions or refer you to the appropriate specialist. Your doctor also may refer you to a mental health provider.
Postpartum depression is often treated with psychotherapy (also called talk therapy or mental health counseling), medication or both.
- Psychotherapy. It may help to talk through your concerns with a psychiatrist, psychologist or another mental health provider. Through therapy, you can find better ways to cope with your feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals and respond to situations in a positive way. Sometimes family or relationship therapy also helps.
- Antidepressants. Your doctor may recommend an antidepressant. If you’re breastfeeding, any medication you take will enter your breast milk. However, some antidepressants can be used during breastfeeding with little risk of side effects for your baby. Work with your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits of specific antidepressants.
With appropriate treatment, postpartum depression usually goes away within six months. In some cases, postpartum depression lasts much longer, becoming a chronic depression. It’s important to continue treatment after you begin to feel better. Stopping treatment too early may lead to a relapse.
Helping a friend or loved one
Treatment for postpartum psychosis can challenge a mother’s ability to breastfeed. Separation from the baby makes breastfeeding difficult, and some medications used to treat postpartum psychosis aren’t recommended for women who are breastfeeding. If you’re experiencing postpartum psychosis, your doctor can help you work through these challenges.
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they’re depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms of depression. If you suspect that a friend or loved one has postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, help them seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait and hope for improvement.
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