Postpartum depression is a specific type of depression that occurs in a woman after she has given birth. Although some degree of temporary mood change is common after giving birth, these symptoms, known as “baby blues,” usually subside within about 2 weeks.
Postpartum depression is more severe and longer-lasting. Signs of postpartum depression may not even appear until a month or more after childbirth, and may continue for months after onset. Some research suggests that women who suffer from postpartum depression may have had episodes of depression in the past that went undetected and untreated. Women whose own mothers had postpartum depression are also more likely to suffer from this condition, as are women who are experiencing difficulties with their husband or partner. Women who are younger than 20 years when their baby is born and women with difficult financial circumstances are also at higher risk. However, postpartum depression can also happen to new mothers who have none of these risk factors.
The causes of postpartum depression are not fully understood, although changes in hormone levels during pregnancy and after childbirth are thought to play a role. However, other life changes that occur after having a baby may also be involved. Some of these changes include the following:
- Changes in body shape and size after pregnancy and delivery;
- Having less free time and independence;
- Less sleep;
- Changes in work and social life; and
- Anxiety about motherhood and being a good mother.
The symptoms of postpartum depression are very similar to those of any other type of depression. A person suffering from postpartum depression may experience the following symptoms of depression:
- Lack of interest in or inability to enjoy most activities;
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness;
- Changes in sleep habits or appetite (sleeping or eating too much or too little);
- Irritability or restlessness;
- Crying easily and without apparent reason;
- Difficulty focusing and making decisions;
- Lack of energy; and
- Thoughts of suicide.
In addition to the general depression symptoms, women with postpartum depression may have symptoms that are specific to the situation of new motherhood. These may include:
- Lack of interest in the baby.
- Inability to feel a connection or bond with the baby.
- Being afraid of being left alone with the baby.
- Thoughts of harming the baby or causing self-harm.
- Guilt about feelings of resentment or indifference toward the baby.
Women who are experiencing postpartum depression may be afraid or ashamed to admit that they are having these feelings about motherhood or their baby. However, it is important to remember that this is a psychological disorder without blame, and that women experiencing these feelings are not alone; other women have had the same experience. Although women with postpartum depression rarely act on impulses to harm their babies, it is important to get help to ensure that they feel healthy again. There are many treatments that can help women through an episode of postpartum depression, including antidepressants and talk therapy. Seeking help is the best way to resolve the problem and feel better again.