Postpartum Depression

Although it is not a new postpartum mood disorder, postpartum depression has increasingly gained attention from the medical world as well as from the public. Because of this, more women are recognizing their symptoms as being more than the baby blues and are seeking treatment for their depression. While it is not as common as the baby blues, postpartum depression does affect one in 10 women and requires professional attention.

Postpartum Depression Facts
The history of postpartum depression goes back to the 1850s when psychiatric professionals first recognized the disorder, although as early as 700 B.C., Hippocrates wrote on the emotional difficulties many women faced in the postpartum period. Nowadays, health professionals estimate that between 15 and 20% of women who have recently given birth will be affected by postpartum depression. While it is a serious condition, women who receive proper medical attention can expect to fully recover.

Some people refer to postpartum depression and the baby blues interchangeably. However, it is important to note that these are two completely different types of depressions. Unlike the baby blues, which show-up within the first few days after birth, postpartum depression can begin anywhere during the first year after giving birth. Experiencing a miscarriage or weaning your child can also cause you to develop postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms
One reason why postpartum depression and the baby blues are often confused is because they tend to have similar symptoms. However, women with postpartum depression will feel these symptoms more intensely. Moreover, the symptoms usually develop within the first three months after birth, although they can appear at any point within the first year after birth. Here are the most common postpartum depression signs:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling sad and crying more than usual
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Change in eating habits (overeating or not eating at all)
  • Change in weight (sudden increase or decrease in weight)
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of interest or over interest in baby
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness, and/or hyperventilating

Causes of Postpartum Depression
The natural change in a woman's hormones is often responsible for changes in her mood. Just before you get your menstrual period, you are much more likely to feel very sensitive and grouchy. This is because your estrogen and progesterone levels have been increasing all month before suddenly dropping towards the end of your cycle.

When you are pregnant, your estrogen and progesterone levels steadily increase for nine months. Just after you give birth, your hormone levels plummet. They continue to fall until they return to your normal, pre-pregnancy levels. As a result, many women feel especially emotionally in the days after they give birth. Many experts feel that it is this sudden change in hormones that is the main culprit behind postpartum depression.

However, it is not just estrogen and progesterone that can wreak havoc on your moods. Postpartum depression has also been linked to low thyroid levels. Your doctor can do a simple blood to determine if this is the cause and thyroid medications can be used to treat your depression.

Many doctors also firmly believe that it is not just the hormonal changes that cause postpartum depression. The Bronfenbrenner ecology theory states that, when evaluating a woman for postpartum depression, it is necessary to examine all the systems that affect her. Since people are affected by everything around them, a person cannot be properly evaluated without taking their personal situation into context. For a woman suffering from postpartum depression this would include an evaluation of her family, workplace, community, society and the culture in which she lives.

The changes a new baby causes in your life can also contribute to the depression. A lack of sleep, emotional stress, feeling overwhelmed, suffering from a loss of identity and feeling as though you have lost control and freedom can all negatively impact your mood. Women who do not have a strong social and emotional support group are also more vulnerable to postpartum depression.

Risks for Postpartum Depression
Age and the number of children a woman has is not a factor when it comes to postpartum depression. Any woman who has recently given birth, miscarried or abruptly weaned her child can be affected by postpartum depression.

Having a personal or familial history of depression can increase your chances of developing postpartum depression by 30%. If you experienced postpartum depression in a past pregnancy, you are 50 to 80% more likely to suffer from it in a future pregnancy. Women who experience depression during pregnancy are also more at risk of developing postpartum depression.

Coping With Postpartum Depression
It is important that women suffering from postpartum depression get help as soon as they can. Without proper treatment, your depression may get worse and can continue for up to a year. Treating postpartum depression is usually not hard and most women respond well to the various forms of therapy.

One of the more common forms of medical treatments is antidepressants. However, if you are breastfeeding, you should discuss the use of these drugs with your doctor first. It is possible for some antidepressants to wind up in your breast milk.

Counseling, either one-on-one with a psychologist or in a group setting, has been extremely beneficial for many women. Some women can effectively treat their depression through counseling alone while others take advantage of the counseling in conjunction with the use of antidepressants. Having a strong base of home support, talking with your partner about how you feel and getting out of the house regularly to socialize with friends have also been found to significantly help women with postpartum depression.

With the gaining popularity in non-traditional forms of therapy it is not surprising to see that many women have found that doing yoga or receiving acupuncture has helped to ease their symptoms of depression. Getting regular exercise and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can also help to elevate your mood and general sense of well-being. Since lactation can slow down the change in your hormones, it is advised that you slowly wean your child off of breast milk in order to lower your risk of developing postpartum depression.

If you have been feeling depressed for more than two weeks, recognize yourself in the list of symptoms or your depression is interfering with your ability to care for your baby, make an appointment with your doctor. Unfortunately, screening for postpartum depression is not done enough by doctors these days so it is necessary for you to speak up if you think something is wrong.

For more advice on postpartum depression, check out Pregnancy Q and A.