The term sounds scary — and you might wonder, exactly what is postpartum depression? A rule of thumb: it lingers longer than a couple of weeks. Here's what you should know.
Most mothers get a mild case of baby blues — a week or two of worry, fatigue and sadness after they give birth.
About one in nine U.S. mothers experiences postpartum depression (or PPD), which is more severe and lingers. It can start before the delivery, but usually kicks in during the first month with the new baby.
What is postpartum depression?
Two hormones — estrogen and progesterone — rapidly drop after a delivery and can trigger a low mood. You’ll usually be deprived of sleep, and often have some anxiety about how to care for your baby. (If you also have delusions or hallucinations, you have a different, rare disorder).
Unlike the baby blues, which go way on their own, postpartum depression requires treatment. Don’t assume that because your pregnancy was easy or you’ve had children before that you can’t develop this problem. It can affect any mother, rich or poor, married or single.
Signs of postpartum depression
The danger signs of postpartum depression include:
- Losing pleasure or interest in your usual activities, including sex
- Big shifts in your eating habits
- Panic attacks
- Racing thoughts
- Guilt or self-blame
- Irritability and agitation
- Crying bouts
- Fear of being alone with the baby
- Losing interest in your baby and other loved ones
- Foggy mind and indecisiveness
If you experience those symptoms for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.
For half of women diagnosed with PPD, this is their first episode of depression. Also half of women who are later diagnosed with PPD began experiencing symptoms during pregnancy. Don’t wait until after the birth to seek help if you’re concerned or if a family member notices your symptoms and suggestions you talk to a healthcare provider.
Some women are more vulnerable. You’re more at risk if you’ve ever had depression or the illness runs in your family. Chronic anxiety is also a factor. Any stress during the pregnancy or shortly after delivery — for example, grief from a death, domestic violence, losing a job, or another illness — can tip you over. If you’ve had many tragedies in your life, you’re more at risk. Women who were mistreated as children are more likely to become depressed at this time.
You may have mixed feelings about the pregnancy, or the baby may have arrived with medical problems.
If you don’t have people to help you, you’ll be more anxious and burdened. Any alcohol or drug abuse issues obviously won’t help.
Postpartum depression treatment
The postpartum depression treatment is similar to treatment for other depression: medication and talk therapy may both be necessary. For severe cases, researchers are investigating the effects of an injectable drug called brexanolone.
Left untreated, your depression could affect your relationship with your baby. Research suggests that boys are more affected than girls and may end up developing more slowly. However, children suffer the most when their mothers are depressed over longer periods — so the sooner you get help, the better.
Fathers can get depressed by life with a new child as well. In a longitudinal study that followed more than 10,000 men over 23 years, depressive symptoms jumped by 68 percent among men living with a child during its first five years. About 4 percent of fathers get clinically depressed in the first year, and up to 20 percent will have had a depressive episode by the child’s 12th birthday.
Younger fathers, men with a history of depression, and fathers worried about money are most at risk. The costs of raising children are soaring. Parents can also become depressed after adopting a child.
May 21, 2018