Postpartum Depression

           

Having a baby is supposed to be a joyous time in a woman’s life.  But for some women it can be very stressful and difficult.  Up to 70 percent of all new mothers experience the “baby blues.”
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Postpartum depression* is different from the “baby blues.”
Baby blues refers to feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue that many women experience after having a baby. Baby blues is a short-lasting condition (days to two weeks) that doesn’t impair functioning and doesn’t require medical attention.  Symptoms may include crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. 

Like major depression, postpartum depression can be a serious medical condition, but it is also treatable. The depression can begin in late pregnancy or up to 4 weeks after childbirth. An estimated 9-16 % of new mothers experience postpartum depression.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
• Sluggishness, fatigue
• Feeling sadness, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
• Difficulty sleeping/sleeping too much
• Changes in appetite
• Difficulty concentrating/confusion
• Crying for “no reason”
• Lack of interest in the baby or family and friends
• Fear of harming the baby or oneself
• Difficulty bonding with baby

A woman experiencing postpartum depression may first appear to be experiencing the “baby blues.” With postpartum depression the symptoms usually become worse and last longer. These symptoms may cause new mothers to feel isolated, guilty, or ashamed. Getting treatment is important for both the mother and the child.

Contact your doctor if 
• you are experiencing several of the symptoms above for more than two weeks;
• you have thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming your child
• depressed feelings are getting worse
• you are having trouble with daily tasks and taking care of your baby

Depression is a medical illness -- not a sign of weakness or poor parenting, and it can be treated.

Risk Factors

Women are at increased risk of depression during or after pregnancy if they
• have previously experienced postpartum depression.  Women who have had postpartum depression once are 40% likely to experience it with later childbirths.
• have a family history of depression or other mood disorders
• are experiencing particularly stressful life events
• don’t have support of family and friends.

Research suggests that rapid changes in hormones and thyroid levels after delivery have a strong effect on mood and may contribute to postpartum depression. In addition, emotional and environmental factors such as sleep deprivation, stress, or lack of support systems.

Treatment

It is important to take  these symptoms seriously when they occur. Depression can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both.  Like major depression, a  thorough medical evaluation is important to ensure there is no other medical condition (e.g., thyroid problems) causing the depression.  The support of family, friends, and support groups can be helpful. It is important that women being treated for postpartum depression continue with treatment even after they feel better, If treatment is stopped too soon, symptoms can recur. Many women are concerned about breast feeding and taking medication. It is important to address this and other concerns with your doctor. Discuss the options that are best for you and your baby.

More Information

US Dept of Health & Human Services, Office of Women’s Health

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA

Mental Health America (MHA)
800-969-MHA (6642)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Information Helpline:  800-950-NAMI (6264)

National Institute on Mental Health

 

* In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) postpartum depression is not identified as a separate disorder but is identified as major depressive disorder or persistent depressive disorder with the specifier peripartum onset [shortly before or after the birth of a baby].

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