Postpartum depression is a type of clinical depression that women suffer following the birth of their child. It is characterized by feelings of extreme anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness that begin sometime during the first year after having a baby, and persist longer than two weeks.
Postpartum depression often goes undiagnosed or dismissed as the “baby blues,” but postpartum depression is a distinct and serious mental illness. If you are suffering from depression following the birth of your child, you are not alone, and help is available.
What are the “Baby Blues”?
Postpartum depression is NOT the “baby blues” or postpartum blues. Postpartum blues refers to a temporary state of anxiety or depression that occurs about 2-3 days after childbirth and usually only lasts for a few weeks. Having a newborn is an intensely emotional time for a new mother, and the psychological enormity of this event, combined with the chemical changes in her body, can feel overwhelming. A woman going through baby blues may:
- Experience mood swings
- Cry for little or no reason
- Lash out at her partner or other children
- Lose her appetite
- Have trouble sleeping
- Be unable to make clear decisions
- Feel overwhelmed at the responsibilities of motherhood
What is Postpartum Depression?
While the “baby blues” typically subside after a few days or within a couple weeks of delivery, postpartum depression can continue to linger for several months. Postpartum depression usually sets in around 1-3 weeks after the baby is born.
Furthermore, the emotional effects of postpartum depression are much more severe than those of the “baby blues.” Women with postpartum depression often feel so depressed and anxious that they have a hard time taking care of themselves, their newborn, and their other children. This is why it is so important that women seek medical help to manage their symptoms.
Causes of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a complex psychological disorder that often has several interacting causes. Experts believe that these factors may contribute to postpartum depression:
Giving birth, whether vaginally or through Cesarean delivery, puts extreme strain on the human body. It takes several days or even weeks for most women to fully recover following childbirth. Moreover, caring for a newborn, especially without support from a partner or family members, can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Your body releases a special blend of hormones to create a hospitable environment for your baby to grow in the womb. After childbirth, the production of these hormones – namely estrogen and progesterone – drops dramatically. Much like the emotional ups-and-downs of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), rapid fluctuations in hormones can trigger moodiness and depression in some women.
Having a new baby can be incredibly stressful, especially if the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted, or if the mother does not have a strong support system to help her care for her newborn. Additionally, an illness that keeps the baby or mother in the hospital longer than expected can be distressing and provoke feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
Personal history of depression
New mothers who have been diagnosed with depression in the past have an increased risk of developing postpartum depression. If you have been treated for depression or another mood disorder or mental illness, disclose this information to your gynecologist when you become pregnant.
If you are on anti-depressants, your doctor may have you switch medication to protect your growing baby. Your doctor can work with you to decrease your risk of postpartum depression, and may recommend beginning counseling soon after you give birth.
Diagnosing Postpartum Depression
If you have been experiencing depressive symptoms for longer than two weeks following childbirth, call your gynecologist. Your gynecologist will conduct an interview and evaluate your symptoms. You may find it helpful to write down a list of your symptoms and any questions you may have for your doctor. If your doctor believes you are suffering from postpartum depression, she may refer you to a mental health specialist for treatment.