What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder affecting 1 in 8 new moms. After childbirth, the levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in the mother’s brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, many mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression. The most important thing to remember is that if these symptoms are experienced, they are not the fault of the mother and care of a physician should be pursued immediately.
Who is at risk for developing postpartum depression?
Some indicators of susceptibility to postpartum depression include:
- History – Past diagnosis of depression in the mother or her family.
- Stress and problems Financial issues, relationship problems, abuse, addiction or other big sources of stress can increase risks of developing depression.
- Age - Lack of experience and maturity and in a young mom can lead to postpartum depression.
- Pregnancy Complications – Specific medical problems during childbirth.
However, postpartum depression can affect any woman regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or economic status.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
Some of the more common symptoms a woman may experience include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
- Worrying or feeling overly anxious
- Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
- Oversleeping, or being unable to sleep even when her baby is asleep
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Experiencing anger or rage
- Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
- Suffering from physical aches and pains, including frequent headaches, stomach problems, and muscle pain
- Eating too little or too much
- Withdrawing from or avoiding friends and family
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby
- Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
- Thinking about harming herself or her baby.
How can a woman tell if she has postpartum depression?
Only a health care provider can diagnose a woman with postpartum depression. Because symptoms of this condition are broad and may vary between women, a health care provider can help a woman figure out whether the symptoms she is feeling are due to postpartum depression or something else. A woman who experiences any of the symptoms listed above should see a health care provider right away.
How is postpartum depression different from the “baby blues”?
The “baby blues” is a term used to describe the feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue that many women experience after having a baby. Babies require a lot of care, so it’s normal for mothers to be worried about, or tired from, providing that care. Baby blues, which affects up to 80 percent of mothers, includes feelings that are somewhat mild, last a week or two, and go away on their own.
With postpartum depression, feelings of sadness and anxiety can be extreme and might interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family. Because of the severity of the symptoms, postpartum depression usually requires treatment. The condition may begin shortly before or any time after childbirth, but commonly begins between a week and a month after delivery.
How is postpartum depression treated?
There are effective treatments for postpartum depression. A woman’s health care provider can help her choose the best treatment, which may include:
- Counseling/Talk Therapy: This treatment involves talking one-on-one with a mental health professional (a counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker).
Jackson Healthcare for Women provides counseling services through our onsite social worker, Melissa Reynolds. Speak to your physician if you are interested in scheduling an appointment.
- Medication: Antidepressant medications, which can be prescribed by your physician, act on the brain chemicals that are involved in mood regulation. Many antidepressants take a few weeks to be most effective. While these medications are generally considered safe to use during breastfeeding, a woman should talk to her physician about the risks and benefits to both herself and her baby.
These treatment methods can be used alone or together.
What can happen if postpartum depression is left untreated?
Without treatment, postpartum depression can last for months or years. In addition to affecting the mother’s health, it can interfere with her ability to connect with and care for her baby and may cause the baby to have problems with sleeping, eating, and behavior as he or she grows. Sometimes postpartum depression can lead to extreme negative or suicidal behavior resulting in harm to the mom or the baby. Therefore, seeking treatment is crucial.
How can family and friends help?
Family members and friends may be the first to recognize symptoms of postpartum depression in a new mother. They can encourage her to talk with a health care provider, offer emotional support, and assist with daily tasks such as caring for the baby or the home.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or thinking of suicide, get help quickly.
- Call your doctor.
- Call 911 for emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room.
- Call the toll-free 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).
Where can I find more information?
Speak to your physician about your feelings and if appropriate he/she may recommend you schedule an appointment with our clinic social worker. For more information on conditions that affect mental health, resources, and research, go to MentalHealth.gov at http://www.mentalhealth.gov, or the NIMH website at http://www.nimh.nih.gov. In addition, the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus service has information on a wide variety of health topics, including conditions that affect mental health.