Discover the causes, signs, and treatments of postpartum depression so you can manage your symptoms and strengthen your relationship with your child.
Having a baby changes your life forever. While being a parent can be rewarding, taking care of a new child can be stressful and demanding. As a new parent, you may have feelings of worry or doubt. However, if you experience overwhelming sadness, isolation, tearfulness, and/or feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, you may have postpartum depression.
According to the CDC, around 1 in 8 women who give birth experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Without intervention, postpartum depression can last for months or even a year and may get worse over time. Recognizing the signs and symptoms can help you or a loved one receive proper treatment.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression that occurs after giving birth. An individual with postpartum depression may suffer emotional highs and lows, frequently cry, feel tired, and have difficulty caring for their child. PPD can occur anytime after childbirth but typically starts in the first couple of weeks or months after delivery.
Unlike the "baby blues," a term that refers to feelings of sadness, worry, and exhaustion in new mothers, postpartum depression is more severe and lasts longer. The "baby blues" are less intense, shorter in duration, and usually disappear after a few days.
If you are experiencing postpartum depression, remember that you are not alone. It's not your fault and these feelings do not make you a bad or unloving mother. If you suspect that you might have postpartum depression, speaking with a mental health professional can help you manage your symptoms and get back to feeling like yourself. In fact, acknowledging the symptoms and reaching out for help are the most heroic things you can do for yourself and your child!
Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Symptoms of postpartum depression can vary in intensity, duration, and frequency. Similar to depression, postpartum depression may include the following symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, or guilt
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Mood swings, including irritability, anger, and apathy
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Low self-worth
- Withdrawing from friends, family, or your baby
- Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
- Concentration or memory problems
- Feeling detached
- Excessive worrying or feeling on edge
- Feeling uninterested in your baby or anxious around them
- Physical problems such as headaches or an upset stomach
Causes of Postpartum Depression
Further research is needed to understand the link between depression and hormonal changes after delivery. Estrogen and progesterone levels increase dramatically during pregnancy but drop sharply after delivery. Within three days of delivery, these hormone levels return to pre-pregnancy levels.
In addition to hormonal changes, postpartum depression can also be caused by psychological and social changes. These changes can include physical changes to your body, sleep deprivation, parenting worries, or relationship issues.
Finally, a person's genetics may also contribute to postpartum depression. If you have experienced depression in the past or have family members who have suffered from depression, you may be more likely to have it after delivery.
Risk Factors for Depression After Birth
Postpartum depression can happen to all pregnant women, regardless of age, race, or economic status. However, certain factors are believed to increase the likelihood of developing it. These factors may include:
- Stressful life events during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or major illness
- Complications during childbirth, such as premature delivery or having a baby with medical problems
- Feeling unsure about the pregnancy, whether it was planned or not
- Having little or no support from your spouse, partner, family, or friends
- Problems with alcohol or drug abuse
- Personal or family history of depression or postpartum depression
- Relationship or marital conflict
- Having a baby with special needs or one who frequently cries
- You're a single parent or under the age of 20
Postpartum Depression Treatment
Untreated PPD can negatively affect the mother's health, interfere with family relationships, disrupt the mother-infant bond, and negatively impact the child's long-term development. Fortunately, postpartum depression is very treatable. Treatment for PPD is generally similar to that for depression and usually consists of psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both.
When symptoms of depression persist, psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be very helpful. Therapy can help you manage your emotions, solve problems, develop realistic goals, and respond effectively to stressful situations. In some cases, couples therapy or family therapy may be beneficial. Common therapeutic techniques for postpartum depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy.
PPD may also be treated with medication depending on the severity of your symptoms. Antidepressants are frequently prescribed for PPD. If your symptoms include anxiety or insomnia, you may also be prescribed anti-anxiety medication for a short period of time. Any medicine you take while breastfeeding can be absorbed through breast milk. The risks and benefits of specific antidepressants should be weighed with your provider.
When to Seek Professional Help
While it's not uncommon to feel sad or anxious after having a baby, the feeling is usually temporary and only lasts for a few weeks. When symptoms persist or get worse, you may have postpartum depression. Left untreated, postpartum depression can affect your ability to function and bond with your baby. It's critical to seek medical attention if:
- Symptoms persist after two weeks
- You're struggling to function normally or cope with everyday life
- You are thinking about harming yourself or your baby
- You feel tense, anxious, and panicked most of the time
If you're having thoughts of harming yourself or others, call 911 immediately or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
How to Cope with Postpartum Depression
It's normal to feel overwhelmed after having a baby. Having a new baby isn't easy, and parenting can be full of ups and downs. If you have depression, incorporating the following steps can help reduce symptoms and help you regain self-esteem.
Take Care of Yourself
In addition to professional assistance via talk therapy (and medication when needed) , postpartum depression can be eased by taking good care of yourself. By following the simple lifestyle changes below, individuals can improve their health, boost their mood, and feel more like themselves.
- Eat a healthy diet: Consuming a healthy diet after childbirth can reduce your risk of postpartum depression linked to nutrient deficiencies. For example, studies show that eating oily fish such as salmon or herring during pregnancy may lower the risk of postpartum depression.
- Nap: Depression is often exacerbated by poor sleep quality. However, sleeping while caring for a newborn can be difficult. When possible, take advantage of any family or friends who can care for your baby while you nap.
- Enjoy the sunshine: The benefits of sunlight and fresh air can significantly improve your mood. Even if you're feeling tired or overwhelmed, try to get outside for at least 10–15 minutes each day.
- Pamper yourself: Allow yourself some time to indulge and take a break from your mom duties. Read a good book, take a bath, or catch up on your favorite show.
It is important to remember that you can do all of these things and still develop symptoms of Postpartum Depression.
Reintroduce Exercise Slowly
Physical activity has been shown to help combat postpartum depression. In addition to strengthening the abdominal muscles, exercise relieves stress, improves sleep, and increases energy levels. Exercise can also improve emotional well-being and reduce postpartum depression symptoms. Walking is a great starting point. You can also push your stroller for light resistance training. Be sure to go slowly and listen to how your body feels.
If your pregnancy was healthy and your delivery was uncomplicated, you can typically start gentle exercise within a few days after birth. However, if you experienced complications during delivery or had a cesarean section, you should ask your doctor when you can resume physical activity.
Create a Support Network
It's common for new mothers to feel lonely and overwhelmed as they adjust to their new role. Feeling lonely can result in isolation, being disconnected from others, and feeling that you don't fit in.
Furthermore, loneliness is associated with high blood pressure, sleep problems, decreased immunity, and heart disease risk factors. By building a support network, however, individuals can increase their self-confidence and independence, making it easier to handle problems by themselves.
If you're struggling with symptoms of postpartum depression, don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and family. If you do not have a close network of friends and family, try finding a support group for new moms.
Talking to other women with similar concerns, worries, and insecurities can sometimes be helpful. Your pediatrician or mental health provider can suggest local support groups and resources in your neighborhood.
Know When to Seek Help
If your symptoms do not improve with self-help or lifestyle change, it may be time to consult a mental health professional. Postpartum depression is often not something you can just snap out of. Left untreated, it can affect your quality of life and ability to connect with your baby. The sooner you seek help for your depression, the sooner you can feel better and enjoy being a mother.
Depression Treatment with CHE
Seeking treatment for postpartum depression is a sign of courage and hope. It’s the first step in taking care of yourself and your family. If postpartum depression has impacted any aspect of your life, CHE Behavioral Health Services can help. With the individualized care you deserve, you can regain control of your life and achieve better health.