Giving birth can cause a number of powerful emotions, especially as your hormones change. While you’re experiencing overwhelming joy, you may also feel anxiety or fear. These rapid changes can trigger postpartum depression for many women.
Many new moms experience something called the baby blues after giving birth. This usually starts in the first few days after delivery and can last up to 2 weeks. Signs of these blues include:
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Issues with appetite
But some new moms experience a more severe period of depression called postpartum depression.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
1 in 7 women will struggle with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a serious depression disorder that affects women after childbirth or miscarriage. This depression can then make it difficult to recover from childbirth and care for and bond with a newborn.
This is a complication from giving birth, not a character flaw or weakness. While there are many risk factors for developing it, there are some causes that might be to blame.
Doctors believe that one of the causes of postpartum depression is the radical drop in your estrogen and progesterone levels that can trigger emotional responses.
Other causes include sleep deprivation and the load of emotional situations layered on top of one another. These issues might include:
- Dealing with complications from childbirth
- Feeling less attractive
- Struggling with your sense of identity
- Concerns about being a new parent
Symptoms typically begin a few weeks after childbirth, although they can also appear later. For many, these feelings are most intense at the beginning and ease over time. Postpartum depression can last up to 6 months after giving birth.
Any new mom can experience postpartum depression, but your risk might be higher if you have:
- Trouble breastfeeding
- Multiple births, like twins
- A newborn with health problems or special needs
- A personal or family history of depression or other mood disorders
- Experienced depression after previous pregnancies
- Bipolar disorder
- Had stress over the last year, like pregnancy complications, illness, or major negative life changes
- Issues in your relationship with your significant other, support system, or finances
- Doubts about the pregnancy because it was unplanned or unwanted
Knowing these risk factors can help you recognize your risk before giving birth. Then you can plan ahead with your doctor.
Prevention When You Know You’re at Risk
If you have a history of depression or postpartum depression, tell your doctor about it once you find out you’re pregnant.
During pregnancy, your doctor can keep an eye on any signs of depression. They may also have you take depression screenings before and after delivery. They might recommend support groups or counseling, or even antidepressants in some cases.
After your baby’s born, they might also recommend a postpartum checkup to check for depression. The earlier they find it, the earlier they can start treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs that you might be struggling with postpartum depression include:
- Trouble bonding or caring for your newborn
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of sadness, sometimes overwhelming, and crying excessively
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Anger and irritability
- Severe or sudden mood swings
- Feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, or worry that you’re not good enough
- Cutting yourself off from loved ones
- Changes in appetite
- Fatigue, loss of energy, and trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in things you once loved
- Trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Dwelling on thoughts of death or suicide
If left untreated, postpartum depression can cause long-term issues in your family. It can last for months and sometimes become a chronic depression issue.
It can also interfere with your ability to bond with your baby, which can impact them in the future. Children of mothers who suffered from untreated postpartum depression have more emotional and behavioral problems. They’re more likely to:
- Cry excessively
- Have development issues, especially delays in language skills
- Have trouble sleeping
Many people feel guilty or embarrassed that they’re depressed after giving birth, which can make it hard to admit they’re struggling. But it’s time to see the doctor if your symptoms:
- Don’t fade after 2 weeks
- Get worse
- Make it hard to care for your baby or complete normal tasks
- Include thoughts of self-harm
Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, rule out other issues, and might ask for you to take a screening or questionnaire to learn more.
From there, they’ll help you decide on the best treatment depending on how serious it is and your medical history. Common types of treatment include:
- Therapy where you talk with a mental health professional in a safe environment
- Support groups for new mothers
- Medication, like antidepressants
- Healthy lifestyle choices, like getting plenty of sleep and water, a healthy diet, and regular exercise
If you have suicidal thoughts or think about harming your baby, it’s important to talk to your loved ones and get help from your doctor as soon as possible.
If you need help immediately, call a suicide hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Postpartum Depression in Fathers
New dads can also have postpartum depression, making them feel sad, fatigued, overwhelmed, or filled with anxiety.
Young fathers with a history of depression, relationship problems, or financial issues are the most at risk. It’s also more likely if the mother is also struggling with depression.
Left untreated, it can have the same negative effects on relationships and child development that a mother’s postpartum depression can.
If you’re a new father dealing with symptoms of depression or anxiety during your partner’s pregnancy or after your child’s birth, talk to your doctor. Similar treatments are available to help you.
In extremely rare cases, mothers can also experience postpartum psychosis. This condition is more severe and dangerous. Symptoms usually develop within the first week after delivery and include:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
- Sleep disturbances
- Agitation and obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby
Postpartum psychosis is very serious and can lead to life-threatening thoughts and actions. It needs immediate attention and treatment. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience or see signs of it.
Helping a Loved One
People with depression may not see the signs in themselves or may struggle to acknowledge they’re depressed at a moment usually portrayed as nothing but joyous. If you suspect that a loved one is struggling with postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, talk to them and their support system about getting help immediately.
Waiting and hoping for improvement is dangerous. Talking about postpartum depression as a normal part of pregnancy for many women helps them feel better about their struggles with it.
As this issue is talked about more in the public, more women will recognize the signs and feel comfortable talking about it and dealing with it.