What is postpartum depression?

Many women have feelings of sadness after childbirth, ranging from brief, mild baby blues to the longer-lasting, deeper depression known as postpartum depression (PPD). 

What are the causes of PPD?

The cause of PPD is unclear. Like baby blues, PPD is thought to be related to the hormone changes that happen during and after birth. These rapid hormone shifts can lead to sadness, anxiety and depression that is more severe and lasts longer than baby blues. 

You may have an increased chance of developing PPD if you have:

  • A prior history of depression or PPD
  • A prior history of anxiety disorders
  • A family history of mood disorders
  • Stress or conflict at home or with your partner
  • Problems breastfeeding your baby 

When to call the doctor

If feelings of sadness or depression are strong, if they last throughout most of the day for days in a row or if they last longer than a week or two, talk to your doctor. A new mother who feels like giving up, who feels that life is not worth living or who has thoughts of hurting herself or her child needs to tell her doctor right away

Symptoms

The most common symptoms are:

  • Feeling angry, irritable, anxious or sad
  • A sense of guilt, shame or hopelessness
  • Appetite or sleep difficulties
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life
  • Obsessive, unreasonable thoughts
  • Repetitive fears about your child’s health and welfare
  • Poor concentration, memory loss and difficulty making decisions 

Serious symptoms that may need immediate care, include:

  • Lack of interest in your infant
  • Fear of hurting or killing yourself or your child
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Loss of contact with reality 

Treatment

With treatment, a woman can feel like herself again. Treatment may include talk therapy, medication or both. In addition, eating a healthy diet, getting exercise and enough rest, and finding social support can be very helpful. 

To help lower your chances of PPD

  • Talk to your doctor about a plan or medicines if you have a prior history of depression
  • Talk to a counselor before you have your baby
  • Get support from your partner or other loved ones
  • Get regular exercise during pregnancy
  • Find ways to relax and lessen stress
  • Plan to breastfeed your baby 

To help a partner with PPD

  • Reassure her that the condition is not her fault, she is not alone and she will feel better
  • Encourage her to talk about her feelings
  • Help with housework without being asked
  • Encourage her to take time for herself
  • Help her reach out to others for support and treatment
  • Offer simple affection and physical comfort; be patient if she is not craving affection or sex