Having a baby requires lots of preparation. However, there’s one thing that expectant parents rarely prepare for: postpartum depression. Unfortunately, the truth is that many mothers become profoundly depressed after their baby is born.
The most mild and short-lived form of postpartum depression is known as “baby blues,” which occurs within the first two weeks after delivery. As many as 80 percent of new mothers experience this temporary condition, which can manifest as several days of sadness, fatigue, insomnia, mood swings and irritability. Other symptoms may include loneliness, anxiety, confusion, forgetfulness as well as a sense of inadequacy, failure and guilt.
Factors contributing to baby blues include the drop in hormones that follows delivery, the physical and emotional stresses of childbirth, sleep deprivation and the sobering reality of being the primary caretaker for your newborn. With adequate household help and emotional support, baby blues tend to fade within several days and are unlikely to persist beyond two weeks.
Postpartum depression, by contrast, is more intense and longer lasting. This condition occurs in approximately 10 percent of new moms during the first year postpartum. It can share many of the features of general depression including sadness, hopelessness, a change in eating habits, disinterest in sex, poor concentration, exhaustion, irritability and withdrawal from friends and family.
While any of these symptoms may occur briefly in a healthy mom, when they are excessive or prolonged they can impair the capacity to carry out daily responsibilities. Some moms exhibit uncontrollable crying or angry, inappropriate outbursts. Others feel anxious rather than depressed and can experience chest pains or heart palpitations.
Other specific features of postpartum depression could include:
A fear of hurting the baby or harming oneself
A feeling of being trapped or overwhelmed by motherhood
An excessive concern or a lack of interest in the baby
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or inadequacy as a mother
Factors increasing the risk of postpartum depression include a history of depression, social isolation, inadequate social support, having a difficult or complicated delivery and stressful life events or financial difficulties. Postpartum contributing factors include having a baby with a high level of needs, having difficulty with breast-feeding or having relationship problems. Thyroid hormone imbalance can also cause postpartum depression; this can be checked with a simple blood test.
While depression can lead to a sense of hopelessness, it’s important to seek out help. Treatment for depression can be very effective, and new moms may respond to individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, hormone treatment or antidepressant medication.
If you are suffering from postpartum depression and are not receiving treatment, contact your primary healthcare provider, who can provide initial assessment and may be able to initiate treatment. You will likely be referred to a mental health professional for further evaluation and care. The right treatment for depression will improve your ability to cope and allow you to enjoy motherhood.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.