What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is one of the most commonly experienced difficulties for women after having a baby. Having a baby is one of the most exciting and yes, stressful, times in a family’s life. From the joy of a new baby to the adjustment of caring for another life to not knowing what to expect. During this time, emotions are high, to say the least. Sometimes, an unexpected “guest,” i.e. postpartum depression, rears its ugly head after baby has arrived, making this period even more difficult and detracting from its joys.
When does Postpartum Depression usually occur? And how is it different from Postpartum Blues?
Have you had a baby recently? Are you feeling not quite like yourself? Postpartum depression can be severe and disruptive. It not only affects the mother, but the entire family dynamic. It can begin within 4 weeks after childbirth and can last up to 12 months. However, it can occur at anytime during the first year after giving birth (Stewart & Vigod, 2016; Tandon et al. 2018). Though the cause of postpartum depression is not exactly known, fluctuating hormones that come after childbirth are thought to play a role (Stewart & Vigod, 2016). Are you wondering if you may have symptoms of postpartum depression? Listed below is a comprehensive range of symptoms that may impact women with postpartum depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression have a wide range and may include:
- Feeling down or depressed or experiencing severe mood swings
- Excessive crying spells
- Difficulty bonding with your baby or feeling detached from your baby
- Withdrawing from your social circle
- Hopelessness restlessness, feelings of low self-worth (feelings that you are not a good mother, feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, etc.)
- Fatigue/lack of energy
- Reduced concentration or focus
- Appetite and sleep difficulties
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Psychotic symptoms (hearing or seeing things that other people do not hear or see; this is rare but can occur)
How about postpartum Blues?
What is referred to as the “baby blues” or “postpartum blues” is comparably milder and quite common after childbirth, affecting up to 70% of women (Stewart & Vigod, 2016). Women usually experience “postpartum blues” or “baby blues” during the first 2 weeks days after having a baby. Symptoms of postpartum blues include feeling down/depression, anxiety, feeling irritable, crying spells, confusion, detachment or lack of emotions for the baby, and sleep and appetite changes. Though these symptoms may be similar to postpartum depression, they do not cause significant impairment in functioning, and symptoms of the postpartum blues will never involve psychosis, which postpartum depression can include (Stewart & Vigod, 2016). Symptoms of postpartum blues usually begin to resolve spontaneously within 2 weeks. However, some cases might lead to postpartum depression (Stewart & Vigod, 2016).
Is Postpartum Depression common?
It is estimated that postpartum depression affects approximately 15% of new mothers (Fox, Sandman, Davis, et al., 2018; Stewart & Vigod, 2016). If you have a history of depression or have previously experienced postpartum depression, you are more likely to experience postpartum depression (Tandon et al. 2018).
How do I know if I have Postpartum Depression?
Though it is natural to experience a lot of changes after having a baby, women who are later diagnosed with postpartum depression describe, “not feeling like themselves.”
If you have 5 or more out of the 9 symptoms below on a nearly every day basis (including depressed mood and loss of interest or pleasure in activities) in the same 2-week period, you meet the criteria for postpartum depression:
1) Do I have depressed mood (or irritability) most of the day?
2) Do I have lost of interest or pleasure most of the day?
3) Have I experienced changes in weight or appetite ?
4) Am I feeling physically slow or sluggish? Am I experiencing a slowing down of thoughts OR feeling physically anxious (tapping feet, pacing around the room) or rapid thinking and talking?
5) Am I sleeping too much or not being able to get enough sleep?
6) Do I feel a loss of energy or am I feeling fatigued?
7) Do I have feelings of worthlessness or guilt?
8) Am I not able to concentrate or make decisions?
9) Am I experiencing suicidal thoughts?
* Diagnostic criteria from American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition.
These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in a woman’s life and can be translated into having difficulty bonding with your baby, feeling detached from your baby, having thoughts about harming your baby, being preoccupied with your baby’s health and feeding (Stewart & Vigod, 2016)
How long do symptoms of postpartum depression last?
The length of postpartum depression varies as every woman experiences it differently. For some women, it can resolve within a few weeks or months. However, 20% of women experience postpartum depression beyond the first year after having a child, and 13% still have it after 2 years (Stewart & Vigod, 2016).
Who is more likely to get postpartum depression?
Are you expecting a baby soon or have you had a baby recently? Are you wondering how likely you are to experience postpartum depression? Women who have previously experienced postpartum depression, or women who have a prior history of anxiety or mood difficulties, are at the highest risk for developing postpartum depression (Stewart & Vigod, 2016). Approximately 40% of women will experience depression again during a subsequent pregnancy or later on in life (Stewart & Vigod, 2016).
Some studies have suggested that postpartum depression is higher among women who have low-income socioeconomic status (Tandon et al. 2018). Other studies have mentioned that women who have marital conflict or lower social support are also more likely to experience postpartum depression (Stewart & Vigod, 2016; Tandon et al. 2018).
What does treatment for postpartum depression look like?
You’ve identified yourself as someone who may be experiencing postpartum depression, now what? Treatment for postpartum depression depends on how severely a woman is impaired by her symptoms. For women who have mild depression, medication may not be needed. For women who have moderate to severe depression, research has shown that antidepressant medication and evidence-based therapy (like cognitive-behavioral therapy–CBT) yield the best outcomes (Stewart & Vigod, 2016; Tandon DS, Leis JA, Ward EA, et al).
How do I get help?
Speaking to your OBGYN, primary care provider, and/or a therapist (if you are connected with one), is the best way to get help for postpartum depression. If you are not connected with a therapist, talk to your OBGYN or your primary care provider about referrals. You can also visit websites like psychologytoday.com to search therapists who specialize in treating postpartum depression in your area. Prevention hotlines (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)) are also an excellent resource and offer more than just suicide prevention. They offer free and confidential emotional support and can connect you further with other resources. The most important thing you can do if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression is reach out and get help. There are so many helpful resources out there and, remember, you are not alone.
1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.
2. Fox M, Sandman CA, Davis EP, Glynn LM. A longitudinal study of women’s depression symptom profiles during and after the postpartum phase. Depression Anxiety . February 2018:1-14. doi:10.1002/da.22719
3. Stewart DE, Vigod S. Postpartum Depression. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2016;275(22):2177-2186.
4. Tandon DS, Leis JA, Ward EA, et al. Adaptation of an evidence-based postpartum depression intervention: feasibility and acceptability of mothers and babies 1-on-1. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth . 2018;18(93). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-018-1726-0.
Short Article Review
- Postpartum depression is one of the most commonly experienced difficulties for women after having a baby.
- Postpartum depression can begin within 4 weeks after childbirth and can last up to 2 years.
- It is estimated that postpartum depression affects approximately 15% of new mothers.
- The cause of postpartum depression is not exactly known but fluctuating hormones that come after childbirth are thought to play a role.
- “Baby blues” or “postpartum blues” is comparably milder and quite common after childbirth, affecting up to 70% of women. Women usually experience “postpartum blues” or “baby blues” during the first 2 weeks days after having a baby.
- Speaking to your OBGYN, primary care provider, and/or a therapist (if you are connected with one), is the best way to get help for postpartum depression. Prevention hotlines (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)) are also an excellent resource and offer more than just suicide prevention.