Recognize the Signs of Postpartum Depression
Is it More Than Just the Baby Blues?
You might assume that the birth of a new baby will be a time of joy and excitement in your life. While a new family member can bring happiness, it's also fairly common for women to feel somewhat down or sad after giving birth.
In some cases, sadness after the birth of a baby is relatively mild and passes within a few days. In others, it's a more serious cause for concern and is associated with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is fairly common, affecting more than 10% of all new moms1.
If you're concerned that you're not feeling like yourself after giving birth or if you know a new mom who appears to be struggling, here's how to tell the difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression and how you can get help.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
When a woman is dealing with postpartum depression, she might feel an overwhelming sense of sadness or hopelessness. Some new moms withdraw from their social circles, avoiding friends and family.
Another common sign of postpartum depression is a sense of disconnection between mother and baby. A new mom who's dealing with postpartum depression might not feel much interest in her baby or have the sense that her new baby doesn't belong to her. Some new moms believe that they are bad moms or that they don't deserve to have a child.
The signs of postpartum depression can develop within a few weeks after giving birth. Some women can develop postpartum depression months or even nearly a year after delivery.
Other common signs of postpartum depression include:
● Thoughts of harming yourself or the new baby
● Trouble concentrating or making decisions
● Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
● Feeling restless
● Weight or appetite changes
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression
Many women have what's known as the "baby blues" soon after giving birth to a child. The baby blues can be challenging but shouldn't be confused with postpartum depression. Similarly, a mother who's experiencing the more severe signs of postpartum depression shouldn't be dismissed as merely having the baby blues.
Some common signs of the baby blues include crying a lot, often for no reason, and feeling inadequate or incompetent as a mom. Usually, the baby blues start a few days after the new baby arrives. They also usually go away within a few days.
One way to tell the difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression is to look at when symptoms start and how long they last. The signs of postpartum depression can start during the first month after childbirth, during pregnancy (known as perinatal depression) or up to a full year after the baby's arrival.
Postpartum depression symptoms are also longer lasting than the baby blues. Usually, the symptoms need to persist for at least two weeks to qualify as postpartum depression2.
Symptoms are also more intense and severe when a woman has postpartum depression instead of the baby blues. It can be difficult, if not impossible, for new moms to accomplish the tasks of everyday life when they are experiencing postpartum depression.
Causes of Postpartum Depression
Several factors can contribute to postpartum depression. Changes in hormone levels following the birth of a baby is often a contributing cause. The drop in estrogen and progesterone that accompany childbirth can make some women feel depressed3, just as some women experience mood changes around the time of their periods.
Women who have had depression during other times of their lives might be at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. The same is true of women who feel that they don't have an adequate support group or who might have experienced other major life changes around the time of giving birth, such as moving to a new city or losing a loved one.
Whatever the cause of the depression is, it's important for new moms to understand that it's not their fault or due to some insufficiency on their part. It's also important to understand that help is available.
How to Treat Postpartum Depression
If you have symptoms of depression or feel down or otherwise not like yourself for more than two weeks after giving birth, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your doctor, either your OB/GYN or your family physician. They can help diagnose the issue and get you the help and care you need to feel like yourself again.
Treatments for postpartum depression can include talk therapy and medications, particularly antidepressants. Often, a combination of medication and therapy is effective.
Getting the treatment right can take a bit of trial and error. Just remember that your healthcare providers are on your side and what to help you feel better as quickly as possible so that you can be the best mom you can be.
1. Postpartum Depression, Office on Women's Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/postpartum-depression
2. Perinatal Depression, National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/perinatal-depression/
3. Postpartum Depression FAQs, ACOG, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/postpartum-depression