Postpartum depression, or what some call “baby blues” is a specific experience of depression after women give birth. It is important to recognize that baby blues is not the same as postpartum depression. The symptoms of postpartum depression are intense and can be long lasting. They can impact a mothers ability to care for her child and bond with her child. Postpartum depression symptoms can also develop before the birth of a baby. Postpartum depression affects between 10 and 20 percent of new mothers.
Postpartum Depression Defined
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme anxiety, sadness, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others. While it no longer is a separate diagnosis, it is considered a specific depressive disorder. The collective term now for prenatal depression before the baby’s born and postpartum depression after the baby’s born is perinatal depression.
Different Types of Postpartum Depression
There are not different types of postpartum depression, but postpartum depression is considered a specifier for a depressive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A more severe form of postpartum depression is called postpartum psychosis. It is an extremely rare condition that affects between 1 and 2 women per 1,000. Infanticide is most often associated with postpartum psychotic episodes that are characterized by command hallucinations to kill the infant or delusions that the infant is possessed, but psychotic symptoms can also occur in severe postpartum mood episodes without such specific delusions or hallucinations. Postpartum psychosis is an extremely serious condition. It requires immediate emergency care. A mother may be hospitalized for her own safety as well as her baby’s.
Postpartum Depression Causes
There is no single cause for postpartum depression, and more than likely it caused by a combination of physical changes and emotional issues. Between the considerable drop in hormones after childbirth in the body, sleep deprivation, and being overwhelmed, these factors may contribute to postpartum depression. New mothers may be anxious about their ability to care for a newborn, they may feel less attractive, struggle with a sense of identity or feel that they’ve lost control over their life. Any of these issues can contribute to postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
There are various symptoms related to postpartum depression.
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Restlessness Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyed
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
How to Approach a Loved One
There is not a perfect way to approach a loved one that you assume or know has postpartum depression, but they are usually the first to recognize the symptoms in their loved one. Encouraging a loved one to speak with a medical or mental health professional can be helpful. Offering emotional support and assisting with daily tasks such as caring for the baby or the home may also be helpful in supporting a loved one with postpartum depression. If you are concerned about your loved ones safety, please call 911 immediately.
Types of Postpartum Depression Treatment
Treating postpartum depression usually includes psychotherapy and sometimes can include the use of medication. It is important to distinguish the best course of treatment individually.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling is an effective treatment in which individuals struggling with postpartum depression can develop healthy coping skills to manage their feelings. Individuals may also use the space to talk through their concerns and feelings related to their postpartum depression. With appropriate treatment, postpartum depression symptoms usually improve. In some cases, postpartum depression can continue, which can turn into chronic depression. It is important to continue treatment after beginning to feel better, and there is the potential that stopping treatment too early may lead to a relapse.
This form of therapy can provide the individual with support, as well as the family in regards to how postpartum depression affects the family unit. It can provide the family with skills on how to resolve issues that arise and communicate with each other in a healthy manner. Family therapy also provides the individual with support needed for their recovery.
The most common forms of medication used to reduce postpartum depression symptoms are antidepressants. It is important to consider that if an individual is breastfeeding, any medication will enter the break milk. Most antidepressants can be used during breast-feeding with little risk of side effects for the baby. It is important to consult with a medical doctor in order to weigh the potential risks and benefits of specific antidepressants.
Differences Between Common Disorders
There are other disorders that may resemble postpartum depression, so it is important to differentiate the difference between common disorders that may get confused with this disorder.
- Baby blues – While there are similar symptoms between postpartum depression and baby blues, the main difference between the two is the duration of the symptoms. Symptoms of postpartum depression last for more than 2 weeks after the birth of a baby.
- Perinatal depression – While this term now captures depression before and after a babies birth, it identifies depression during pregnancy. Normal pregnancy can share some symptoms and signs of depression, like insomnia, experience emotional changes, and weight gain. The pregnancy can mask any symptoms of depression, therefore speaking with a doctor may be helpful in identifying these symptoms.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
(5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
Perinatal depression. (n.d). Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/perinatal-depression#causes
Postpartum Depression Health Center. (n.d). Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/depression/postpartum-depression/default.htm
Postpartum Depression Fact. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml
Postpartum Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617