What is Postpartum Depression?
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.
Many new moms experience the "postpartum baby blues" after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks.
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.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin later — up to six months after birth. It is also important to note that women who miscarry or whose babies are stillborn are also susceptible to suffering from symptoms of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you're not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Your doctor will usually talk with you about your feelings, thoughts and mental health to distinguish between a short-term case of postpartum baby blues and a more severe form of depression. As part of your evaluation, your doctor may: ask you to complete a depression-screening questionnaire, order blood tests to determine whether an underactive thyroid is contributing to your signs and symptoms as well as other tests, if warranted, to rule out other causes for your symptoms.
Around 11% to 20% of women who give birth each year have symptoms of postpartum depression. If you settled on an average of 15% of four million live births in the United States annually, this would mean approximately 600,000 women get postpartum depression each year in the United States alone. For half of women diagnosed with postpartum depression, this is their first episode of depression. About half of women who are later diagnosed with postpartum depression may have begun experiencing symptoms during pregnancy–so it’s important to seek help early! Getting the right help can make all the difference for you, your baby and your family.
Postpartum depression can sometimes be related to other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. In addition to this postpartum depression test you may want to take these other tests that we have available.
How is Postpartum Depression Treated?
Treatment and recovery time for postpartum depression can vary, 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. Postpartum depression is often treated with psychotherapy, medication or both.
Medication: Antidepressant medication is often prescribed for postpartum depression, especially if the depression is moderate or severe. Symptoms such as low mood, poor sleep, poor concentration, irritability, etc are often eased with an antidepressant. This may then allow you to function more normally, and increase your ability to cope better with your new baby.
Antidepressants do not usually work straight away. It takes 2-4 weeks before their effect builds up fully. A normal course of antidepressants lasts up to six months or more after symptoms have eased. Some people stop treatment too early and the depression can quickly return. It is important to follow the course your doctor recommends.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT works with the understanding that the way we think affects the way that we feel, and so treatment is focused on helping you have control over your thoughts. A therapist will work with you to identify your thoughts and help you to become aware of when these thoughts are not helpful. It also helps you to develop new and more helpful perspectives as well as teaching you coping strategies which can help you to feel better equipped in managing distress.
Support Groups: A true group therapy session is facilitated by one or more trained psychotherapists and uses the dynamics that occur between members of the group to help identify problem areas and distress. Postpartum depression support groups often combine psychoeducation (teaching about maternal mental illnesses, causes, treatment options, life strategies for wellness, typical new mom stresses, etc.) with the important role of validation from others in the group. The goal of a postpartum depression support groups are to help build community, give space for you to be heard by others and to allow you to recognize that you are not alone in your struggles.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
If the problems in your life are stopping you from functioning well or feeling good, professional help can make a big difference. And if you're having trouble, know that you are not alone: One in four adults in this country have a mental health problem in any given year.
Of course, you don't have to be in crisis to seek help. Why wait until you're really suffering? Even if you're not sure whether you would benefit from help, it can't hurt to explore the possibility.
A mental health professional can help you:
- Come up with plans for solving problems
- Feel stronger in the face of challenges
- Change behaviors that hold you back
- Look at ways of thinking that affect how you feel
- Heal pains from your past
- Figure out your goals
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for a mental health issue can include medication and psychotherapy. In some cases, the two work well together.
What, exactly, is psychotherapy? It's a general term that means talking about your problems with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes. Depending on your situation, treatment can be fairly short or longer-term.
Some people worry that getting help is a sign of weakness. If you do, consider that it can be a sign of great strength to take steps toward getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.