Postpartum depression is a type of depression that a woman can experience after the birth of her baby. The word “postpartum” refers to the period of time after giving birth. Although a woman may begin to exhibit symptoms of depression during the first month following the birth of her baby, symptoms can develop any time within the first year. It is also possible to experience postpartum depression before a woman gives birth.
It is common for a woman to develop “baby blues” during the first few days after giving birth, causing her to be irritable, moody, cry frequently, and have trouble concentrating or sleeping. This is considered to be a mild form of depression and usually goes away within the first two weeks without any treatment. A woman suffering from postpartum depression, the symptoms are more severe and last longer than two weeks.
How do I know if it’s postpartum depression?
Because of the fact that a new mom may feel tired and overwhelmed due to lack of sleep, as well as the stress that often comes with having a new baby, it may be difficult to tell what is considered to be normal during this time. Generally, these symptoms should improve over the first couple of weeks. For the woman with postpartum depression, instead of her symptoms improving, they tend to get worse as time goes on.
- She may feel completely overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, even angry
- She may feel guilty, and that she is a failure as a mother
- She may be unable to sleep, even when her baby is sleeping
- She may be unable to get out of bed and sleep for hours at a time
- She may have little interest in her baby
- She may feel isolated and unable to tell her family how she feels, afraid that she will be judged
- She may have thoughts of harming herself or her baby
It is important to understand that postpartum depression is a serious illness and it can be treated. It affects the woman’s ability to function. It affects her ability to bond with her baby, her relationship with her family and friends. It can also affect her ability to care for her other children.
What causes postpartum depression?
Although an exact cause that is unique to postpartum depression has not been identified, research has found that it is associated with changes in hormones, such as decreases in estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, oxytocin, and thyroid hormones. It is normal for hormones to fluctuate during pregnancy and after the birth of a baby. Some women are more sensitive to these changes, especially the decrease in estrogen that occurs after delivery.
The United States Preventative Task force, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The American College of Nurse Midwives, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all women be screened for postpartum depression, and, that services be in place to provide treatment.
One method that is used to screen women for depression is by The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which is a series of questions based on how a woman has felt over the past week. This is a screening tool only. Postpartum depression is not diagnosed by this.
Some risk factors for developing postpartum depression
Although all risk factors for developing postpartum depression are not known, the following have been identified:
- A history of depression in the past
- Depression during pregnancy
- High levels of stress either before or after delivery
- A family history of depression
- A history of experiencing either physical or emotional abuse
- Health problems either before, during, or after delivery
- Mothers of babies that require care in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
- Mothers that experienced a stillbirth, or death of baby after birth
- Mothers who deliver during seasons of decreased daylight (winter months)
Every woman is unique, therefore, there is no single test used to diagnose postpartum depression. The most important factor is that a new mother realizes that if she is experiencing symptoms, such as feeling sad, empty, guilty, or hopeless most every day, it is important that she tell a family member or friend, as well as contact her physician or midwife for help.
- Viguera, A. (2016). Postpartum unipolar major depression: Epidemiology, clinical features, assessment, And diagnosis. UpToDate. Retrieved from http://www.uptodate.com.