What is Postpartum Depression?

The new mama blues can put a damper on parenthood. Learn all about it.

postpartum depression symptoms causes

  By: Tali Ditye, Ph.D., Co-founder

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Parenting has its ups and downs, but sometimes the downs start to outweigh the ups, putting a damper on your mood and behavior.

This is totally normal and at least partially due to the hormonal effects of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. But when your feelings of sadness persist for several weeks, it could be a sign of postpartum depression.

Depression in New Moms

Postpartum depression is when a woman develops moderate to severe depression after she has given birth. Of course, it is natural to feel sad or down sometimes, and most women will attest to the fact that the hormonal fluctuations that are a natural part of postpartum recovery can lead to brief periods of sadness and crying, frustration, anger, or even regret. In fact, about 70% of women experience what some doctors call the 'baby blues' within a few weeks of giving birth. But, if the low mood sticks around day after day for at least two consecutive weeks, and the symptoms start to interrupt daily activities, it could be a sign of postpartum depression.

Women with postpartum depression tend to be chronically exhausted, show irrational fear of harming the baby or the self, being disinterested in the baby, and have extended and intense periods of crying. Postpartum depression is not a sign of failure as a mother, weakness, or a personality problem; it is actually quite common for women to develop postpartum depression (about 10-20% of new mothers) and in the vast majority of cases it is successfully treated and tends not to turn into major depressive disorder.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Many of the symptoms are similar to those found in major depressive disorder. In addition to feeling 'down' or having a depressed mood, you may have one or more of the following on a daily or near-daily basis: negative thoughts toward the baby, thoughts of death or suicide, fear of harming the baby, fear of harming the self, irritability, agitation, decreased appetite, difficulty concentrating, confusion, feelings of guilt, regret or worthlessness, feelings of socially isolation or withdrawal, and trouble sleeping.

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Some women may only show one or two of these symptoms, and others may show several over the course of a few days. Sometimes it can be very difficult for a new mother to recognize that she might have postpartum depression, so it is always best to consult a medical professional; speak with your OB/GYN or child's pediatrician about your concerns.

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

Many women are successfully treated with psychological therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can provide a mother with strategies and guidance to help them through this difficult time. Sometimes your doctor may choose to give medication in addition to therapy, and some are thought to be safe for breastfeeding mothers. Treatment usually lasts from 3 to 6 months, depending on the severity of symptoms, and the mother's progress.

Remember that having postpartum depression does not mean that you are not a fantastic and loving mother! Treatment can help them feel that way within themselves and also help their relationships with others, such as their spouse, friends and family members.

If you think that you might have postpartum depression, or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, seek immediate medical help (call 9-1-1).

Some Natural Treatments

There are several homeopathic supplements that may be helpful for postpartum depression, such as 5-HTP Mood Support, Omega-3 Oils, Amino Acids, or supplements that blend several of these ingredients.

However, the research on the efficacy of these supplements is mixed, and may or may not be helpful for your situation.

Always consult with your doctor before taking any nutritional supplements, and if you are breastfeeding be sure to also ask your pediatrician!

Exercise, getting outdoors, and spending time with other new moms who are going through similar things may also be helpful.    

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

There is no single known cause of postpartum depression, and the mother is never to blame! It is not a preventable condition.

Hormonal changes, including the dramatic drop in estrogen and progesterone and other hormones, coupled with the intense sleep deprivation of having a newborn may play a role in the development of postpartum depression.  

In addition, there are some risk factors that may increase the likelihood that a new mother might develop postpartum depression. These include:

1. A history of, or current, mood or anxiety disorder, including depression with a previous pregnancy, or a prior anxiety disorder.

2. Having a close family member with a history of, or current, depression or anxiety.

3. Giving birth to twins, triplets, or other multiple births.

4. A history of, or current, alcohol or drug use, or smoking.

5. Not wanting the pregnancy, or did not plan the pregnancy.

6. Having a bad relationship with the father of the baby, or a husband, boyfriend or significant other.

7. Not having a strong support network.

8. Being under the age of 20 years when the baby is born.

9. Having financial problems such as low or unreliable income, poor housing conditions, and/or lack of community support resources.

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