Postpartum Depression

The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect — depression. Many new moms experience the “baby blues” after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings and crying spells that fade quickly. But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme form of postpartum depression known as postpartum psychosis develops after childbirth. Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms — and enjoy your baby.

Symptoms

Postpartum depression may appear to be the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms can be more intense and longer lasting, eventually interfering with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.

The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Lack of joy in life
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe mood swings
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

 Causes

There’s no single cause of postpartum depression. Physical, emotional and lifestyle factors may all play a role.

  • Physical changes:After childbirth, a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in your body may contribute to postpartum depression. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply — which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed. Changes in your blood volume, blood pressure, immune system and metabolism can contribute to fatigue and mood swings.
  • Emotional factors.When you’re sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems. You may be anxious about your ability to care for a newborn. You may feel less attractive or struggle with your sense of identity. You may feel that you’ve lost control over your life. Any of these factors can contribute to postpartum depression.
  • Lifestyle influences.Many lifestyle factors can lead to postpartum depression, including a demanding baby or older siblings, difficulty breast-feeding, financial problems, and lack of support from your partner or other loved ones.

Risk Factors

Postpartum depression can develop after the birth of any child, not just the first. The risk increases if:

  • You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times.
  • You had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy.
  • You’ve experienced stressful events during the past year, such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss.
  • You’re having problems in your relationship with your spouse or significant other.
  • You have a weak support system.
  • You have financial problems.
  • The pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.*

More information

(*Mayo Clinic)