What Is Postpartum Depression?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 31, 2023
What Is Postpartum Depression?

The term sounds scary — and you might what wonder postpartum depression is. 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, which is more severe and lingers. It can start before your delivery but usually kicks in during the first month with your new baby.


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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 your baby
  • Losing interest in your baby and other loved ones
  • Foggy mind and indecisiveness

If you experience symptoms for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.

Half of women diagnosed with postpartum depression are experiencing their first episode of depression. Half of women who are later diagnosed have 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 suggests 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 your pregnancy or shortly after delivery — for example, grief from a death, domestic violence, losing a job, or another illness — can prompt depression.

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 during this time.

You may have mixed feelings about your pregnancy, or your 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 can exacerbate the problem.

Postpartum depression treatment

Postpartum depression treatment is similar to treatment for other depression: Medication and talk therapy may both be necessary. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the injectable drug brexanolone for severe cases.

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. 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 during 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.


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August 31, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell