After childbirth, an overwhelming majority of women undergo a brief period of mild sadness and mood swings, often known as “baby blues.” However, some women experience more severe symptoms that linger for months on end. This is known as postpartum depression (PPD).
By definition, postpartum depression is a form of depression that begins within weeks of childbirth and may persist for several months or years postpartum. According to a study published by the CDC, 1 in 8 women experiences postpartum depression nationally.
As with any other form of mental illness, postpartum depression is a serious mental disorder that can have a negative impact on the mother-child relationship, as well as their health and overall well-being. If left untreated, postpartum depression can develop into full-blown depression.
“Baby Blues” VS Postpartum Depression
The main difference between the so-called baby blues and postpartum depression is the severity and duration of symptoms. Baby blues are a common occurrence, affecting up to 80% of new mothers. They are typically mild in nature and last for a few days to a couple of weeks after childbirth.
On the other hand, postpartum depression is much more severe and long-lasting. It can begin anytime within the first year of childbirth and can go on for months or even years.
Causes of Postpartum Depression
The causes of PPD are not fully understood, but several factors are thought to contribute to its development. These factors include:
Hormonal changes: After childbirth, there is a rapid drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the mother’s body. This shift in hormonal levels can lead to mood swings and feelings of sadness.
Sleep deprivation: Lack of sleep is a common problem for new mothers. This can contribute to fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and depressive mood.
Stress: The stress of caring for a new baby can be overwhelming. This can trigger or worsen symptoms of depression.
Lifestyle changes: A mother’s role and routine are often drastically different after the birth of a child. This can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty, ultimately leading to a depressive mood.
Existing mental health conditions: Some experts suggest that postpartum depression may be a continuation of an existing mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.
Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression can happen to any woman after childbirth, regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. However, several factors may make a woman more likely to experience this type of depression. They include:
- A history of depression or other mental illness
- Lack of support from family and friends
- Financial stress
- Relationship problems
- Stressful life events (such as divorce, death of a loved one, or financial difficulties)
- Poor coping skills
- Unrealistic expectations of motherhood
- Previous experience with postpartum depression
- Complications during pregnancy or childbirth
- A baby with health problems
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Multiple births
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
The symptoms of postpartum depression can vary from person to person. They may be mild, moderate, or severe. Some women experience only a few symptoms, while others experience many. The most common symptoms include:
- Persistent sadness
- Excessive crying
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Irritability or anger
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Loss of interest in sex
- Thoughts of harming oneself or the baby
Preventing Postpartum Depression
There is no sure way to prevent postpartum depression, but below are some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the condition:
- Prepare for childbirth by attending childbirth classes
- Set realistic expectations for motherhood. Understand that it is normal to feel overwhelmed and exhausted in the first few weeks after childbirth.
- Make sure you have a strong support system of family and friends before, during, and after childbirth.
- Get as much rest as possible. Sleep when your baby sleeps.
- Stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly (if possible), both during pregnancy and after delivery.
- Enlist the services of a nanny or get someone to help with childcare if needed.
- Make sure you have realistic expectations of motherhood.
- Talk to your doctor or a counselor if you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, or anxious.
Treating Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that can have lasting effects on both mother and child. However, it is a highly treatable condition, and most mothers often make full recovery with the help of medication and counseling, or both.
If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression, it is vital to seek professional help as soon as possible. Early intervention is essential for a successful recovery.