More Than Just the "Baby Blues"
Postpartum Depression: Symptoms and Causes
By November 3, 2011 3,738
Mood swings are common after childbirth. One minute, a new mother may be feeling happy and excited; the next minute, she may start to cry, overwhelmed with fear and anxiety.
This is often part of the “baby blues,” where a woman may feel moody, teary, and overwhelmed and may have trouble sleeping. These blues are considered a normal part of early motherhood and usually go away within a couple weeks following delivery.
But some women experience a more severe, long-lasting form of these feelings known as postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is moderate to severe depression usually experienced within the first three months after giving birth, though it can occur up to a year later. It is more than just the “blues;” depression is an illness that involves the brain and requires treatment, just like heart disease or diabetes. The good news is that most people with depression do get better with treatment.
In rare cases, a woman may get postpartum psychosis, a severe form of depression that can suddenly develop within the first three weeks following childbirth. Postpartum psychosis may cause a woman to see, feel or hear things that aren't there, act strangely, have delusions and be a danger to herself and her baby. It is an emergency, because postpartum psychosis can quickly get worse and lead to dangerous, irrational behavior.
What causes postpartum depression?
Depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 13 percent of pregnant women and new mothers have depression. (Read more about depression during pregnancy here.)
The exact cause of postpartum depression isn’t known. Researchers generally believe that it is associated with changes in hormone levels during pregnancy and right after childbirth. Those hormone changes may produce chemical changes in the brain, playing a part in causing depression.
The time post-pregnancy is also full of emotional challenges and lifestyle changes that may play a role. For example, a person may feel anxious about parenthood and be physically stressed and sleep deprived. Couple that with worries about financial stress, support, career and other lifestyle changes, and a person may be especially vulnerable to depression at that time.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
The symptoms of postpartum depression are largely the same as the symptoms of other forms of depression. If you have postpartum depression, you may have some of the following symptoms:
- Trouble sleeping, insomnia
- Loss of appetite
- Agitation, irritability or anger
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Loss of energy
- Loss of concentration
- Feelings of hopelessness and unhappiness
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Severe mood swings
- Withdrawal from family, friends and activities
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Thoughts of harming yourself
A woman dealing with postpartum depression may also struggle to care for herself or the baby and have negative feelings toward the baby or even thoughts of harming it. These feelings are scary, but are almost never acted on; it’s important you tell your doctor about them right away. She may also have little interest in the baby or worry intensely about it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing several of the symptoms above, it’s important the affected person tell their doctor immediately. The good news about depression is that most people get better with treatment.