Postpartum Depression: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

woman holding child

The time after you have a baby is supposed to be a time of joy and happiness. Your much-awaited bundle of sweetness is here and you are supposed to be over-the-moon and in love with your new child. Yet, for many moms, there may be a dark underbelly to their postpartum experience. Postpartum can be overwhelming — an overwhelming time of stress and fear. Some mothers also develop a serious mental health condition called postpartum depression.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is defined by feelings of severe depression in mothers following the birth of a child and thought to be due to psychological adjustments to motherhood, hormonal changes, and fatigue — it’s also more common than most would suspect. About 1 in 7 moms develop postpartum depression after giving birth — some may even develop the condition during pregnancy. Postpartum depression usually affects moms in the first few weeks after giving birth, but others experience it several months down the road, even up to a year after giving birth.

Postpartum depression isn’t just a “sad feeling” you need to get over — it involves feelings of anxiety, extreme mood swings, and an inability to function normally. And while it’s true that most postpartum moms are generally prone to things like mood swings and stress, postpartum depression isn’t the same as “the baby blues,” a phenomenon experienced by about 70% of new mothers, usually attributed to shifting hormones and sleep deprivation.

A diagnosis of postpartum depression may be made when mood swings, anxiety and depression are severe, and last more than the first two weeks postpartum. Postpartum depression can be dangerous for both the baby and the new mother.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

If you experience the following symptoms for more than two weeks and they are interfering with your day-to-day life, you may be experiencing postpartum depression:

  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Change in eating habits
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling like you can’t connect with your baby
  • Feeling like a “bad mom” or a failure
  • Racing thoughts
  • Insomnia
  • Anger or irritability
  • Sadness
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling afraid to be left alone with your baby
  • Difficulty concentrating

The symptoms of postpartum depression sometimes take mothers by surprise, they comprise not just classic depression symptoms, but also include symptoms of anxiety, OCD, and even anger.

Some moms experience suicidal ideation. If you are having any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please dial 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).

In addition, if you are experiencing signs of psychosis or mania (hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations), you may be suffering from postpartum psychosis, a rare but very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

What are the Causes of Postpartum Depression?

There are some factors that may make a mother more prone to developing postpartum depression, including:

  • A difficult or traumatic birth
  • A baby who is medically fragile or has spent time in the NICU
  • A previous experience of postpartum depression
  • A family history of mental illness
  • A baby who has colic or is difficult to manage or comfort
  • Financial stresses
  • Lack of social support

It’s important to understand that postpartum depression can affect all mothers regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or even the strength of her support system.

Getting Help For Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can be scary and extremely distressing, both for moms who experience it as well as their loved ones. But the good news is that once it’s diagnosed, it’s generally quite treatable. Postpartum depression is typically treated with talk therapy (psychotherapy) — or a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Moms may also find it helpful to join a postpartum depression support group.

Making sure to have a robust support network to help with things like baby care and chores can make a difference for moms who are struggling with postpartum depression. After all, caring for a baby really is as all consuming and difficult as it seems — no mom is meant to “do it all.” It takes a village to raise a child, just as it can take a village to support a mom who is trying to raise that child.

Online therapy for postpartum depression

Sometimes the hardest part of getting help for postpartum depression is reaching out for the first time. Many moms feel completely alone in their emotions, stigmatized, and are ashamed of how they are feeling; this may cause them delay reaching out for help.

Options like online or virtual therapy may be helpful for those moms who have never reached out to a therapist or don’t know how they will find the time to get the help they need. Additionally, many new mother support groups also have online components that many find beneficial.

Most importantly, moms should know they are not alone. So many new mothers experience postpartum depression. You didn’t do anything wrong if you find yourself struggling with this condition or any of these symptoms. Above all, know that there are options available for you to feel better and live your best, healthiest life — for yourself and your baby.

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