The Basics of Postpartum Depression

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a clinical mood disorder. It’s not the same as the “baby blues,” which can impact many women. Having a child represents a huge change in your life and body, and it’s natural to experience some anxiety or sadness as you go through this change. Add to that fact that hormones in your body are undergoing serious changes, and a few days or even a week of depression is not uncommon.

But if these feelings and issues extend beyond two weeks, you may have postpartum depression. That means you’re not just a little stressed and sad. Your body and brain aren’t working normally, and it’s impacting your mental health and behavior. In some cases, it may even be impacting your physical health.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

The National Institute of Mental Health notes that postpartum depression doesn’t have a single cause, and it’s important to note that PPD doesn’t occur because you did something wrong or didn’t do something specific. For example, the way you deliver your baby doesn’t cause you to have postpartum depression.

Instead, PPD is caused by a range of factors mixing together. Hormones, which change levels quickly after you have a child, can trigger chemical changes and mood swings. Lack of rest and the new stress that comes with adding an infant into your life can cause exhaustion and other physical symptoms. Other emotional and physical factors can combine with these to cause PPD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some factors can put women at greater risk of dealing with PPD. These include low social support, history of depression in the family, or being a teen mom. Being a mom to twins or triplets (or other multiples), delivering preterm, or experiencing pregnancy complications can also increase your risk of dealing with PPD. Unplanned pregnancies or having mixed feelings about a pregnancy can also lead to an increased risk.

Postpartum Depression by the Numbers

Reports indicate that the number of recognized postpartum depression cases are on the rise. In 2000, depression related to childbirth was reported at a rate of 4.1 in every 1,000 cases. By 2015, that number had risen to 28.7 in every 1,000 cases. That’s an increase of almost 85%.

It’s not clear whether cases of PPD are increasing or whether awareness of the issue is simply on the rise. Doctors and other medical staff may be more apt to recognize these symptoms or counsel women about the possibility of PPD. That can lead to more self-reporting of symptoms, which is one of the main ways in which PPD is diagnosed.

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Differentiating between the baby blues and PPD can be difficult. But if you’re feeling long-term depression following childbirth, it can be important to reach out for guidance and assistance from medical professionals.

Here are a few signs and symptoms that you or someone you love may be dealing with PPD, sourced from the CDC.

  • You cry more than usual or at things that you normally would not find emotionally distressing enough to cry.
  • You have feelings of anger that don’t resolve or don’t correspond to what you perceive as the logical situation.
  • You withdraw from friends and family in your life.
  • You feel anxious or worry over things that you can’t control or wouldn’t have previously worried over.
  • You feel like you aren’t establishing the right relationship with your baby, or you feel distant from them.
  • You have anxiety or doubts about your ability as a mother or feel like you can’t properly care for your baby.
  • You have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming your child.

Other common symptoms of PPD can include not eating enough or overeating, unexplained physical pains in the muscles or stomach, frequent headaches, trouble concentrating or focusing, and feeling like you’re in a void or unable to feel anything normally.

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

A diagnosis of PPD requires a professional health care provider to consider your symptoms and other factors. If you’re dealing with some of the symptoms above, it’s important to reach out to a professional. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that women can talk to their OB/GYNs or another medical provider about their symptoms, but it recommends reaching out as soon as you experience issues. The ACOG doesn’t recommend waiting until a scheduled postpartum appointment to talk to someone about your potential PPD symptoms.

PPD can be treated. This is not something you have to “tough out” or “wait out” on your own. Two common methods of treating PPD include medication and therapy.

Antidepressant medications may be prescribed for women who are experiencing PPD. These medications help regulate the chemicals in your brain that are responsible for mood changes. This can be helpful if the hormonal changes throughout pregnancy and childbirth have caused those chemicals to be thrown out of balance. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these medications may be safe to take while you’re breastfeeding. But you should always take up these concerns with your prescribing physician to best understand the side effects of any medication you take.

Another option for treating PPD is therapy. Often, health providers recommend therapy in conjunction with medication, but you might also attend therapy without taking medication. Common forms of therapy used to treat postpartum depression include cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy. Both are talk therapies designed to help you work through your feelings, behaviors, thoughts, and relationships.

How to Get Help & Additional Resources

This guide is for informational purposes only. It’s meant to be an educational guide to introduce the topic of postpartum depression and some related facts. It is not meant to be a diagnostic tool or provide any recommendations for treatment. If you are struggling with any of the symptoms discussed in this document or believe you are dealing with PPD, consult with your medical provider for more information and advice on the next steps that are right for you.