What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression affects an estimated 15% of new moms, with full 80% of new mothers report experiencing the “baby blues.” This is a mood disorder that usually starts within 4 to 5 days of giving birth, though its onset may be as late as one month after the baby is born. Postpartum depression, which is also known as postnatal depression, can last for weeks or even months if left untreated. It results in extreme sadness and melancholy during a time that should be joyful. An estimated one in 1,000 women will be diagnosed with a more severe disorder called postpartum psychosis.
Types of Postpartum Depression
As mentioned above, there are three conditions in the spectrum of postpartum depression. Baby blues is the mildest form of postpartum depression. It typically lasts less than two weeks, during which time the woman may feel weepy. Some people describe the baby blues as being like a severe form of PMS. Postpartum depression lasts longer than two weeks. The symptoms (as described below) are so severe that they may interfere with your daily functioning. Finally, postpartum psychosis is a severe mental illness with onset within three months of giving birth. The new mother will experience a break with reality, which may include hallucinations (auditory and visual) and delusions. Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment which sometimes requires hospitalization.
Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
- Feelings of sadness or emptiness that won’t abate
- Excessive fatigue
- Losing interest in activities that she used to enjoy
- Severe mood swings
- Irritability and restlessness
- Lack of energy
- Appetite changes
- Feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Not feeling good enough in terms of taking care of the baby
- Isolation, social withdrawal
- Excessive sleep or insomnia
- Lack of self-care
- Poor concentration
- Can’t remember details
- Concern for harming herself, her partner, or the baby
Who Is at Risk for Postpartum Depression?
While hormonal changes from pregnancy and giving birth can certainly influence postpartum depression, there are other risk factors as well. People who are more at risk for postpartum depression may have suffered from depression before or during pregnancy. She may have also struggled with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). They may be living alone, have poor social support, or have marital strife. She may have been ambivalent about the pregnancy, to begin with. The likelihood for postpartum depression increases with the greater number of children the woman already has. Additionally, the younger you are at the time you have the baby, the higher your chance of having postpartum depression. Other influences include a traumatic birth, low socioeconomic status, cigarette smoking, and difficulties with the baby’s temperament, such as colic.
How to Prevent and Treat Postpartum Depression
If you know that you’re at risk for postpartum depression, you should make a plan to try to prevent it. Make sure that your ob/gyn knows if you have a history of anxiety or depression and work together to make a plan for support groups or counseling. If, after the baby is born, you notice any of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression coming on, speak up. The sooner you let your healthcare provider know, the better. They may be able to prescribe you with medication so you can feel better, even if you are breastfeeding. There is no shame in getting help. Social interaction is important for combating postpartum depression. If there is something in particular that you’re struggling with, such as lack of sleep or trouble with breastfeeding, ask for help. Perhaps a friend can watch your baby while you nap or a lactation consultant can assist you with nursing. Be patient with yourself and make sure that you have a good support system in place. You don’t have to do this on your own.