Pregnancy can be an emotional roller coaster for the parents to be – the joy of expectation of a new child, and the anxiety of caring for a new life. For the mother, these feelings associated with the pregnancy, delivery, and the postpartum period can be compounded by hormonal changes that can give rise to mood swings, periods of crying, and irritability. These feelings can be further influenced by the inevitable lack of sleep that comes with caring for a newborn’s needs.
Postpartum women may experience periods of sadness, stress, and anxiety that are often referred to as “The Baby Blues.” Most of the time this phase of postpartum recovery lasts for a week or two after delivery. In time, your body normalizes, your hormones come into balance, and hopefully, you are able to get the sleep you need by working efficiently with your partner.
For some new mothers, the postpartum “Baby Blues” can last longer than two weeks. This, then, is classified as “Postpartum Depression” or PPD. It’s important to note that PPD not only lasts longer than the Baby Blues, but it is also characterized by more severe symptoms.
To better understand postpartum depression, it helps to take a closer look at this relatively common condition.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a clinical depression that starts with hormonal and brain chemistry changes associated with pregnancy. Common symptoms of PPD include:
- A general loss of appetite
- Frequent crying
- Excessive fatigue
- Struggling to bond with your baby
- General restlessness
- Anxiety attacks
- Feeling intensely overwhelmed
- Moments of unexplained angry
- Feelings of hopelessness
- It isn’t entirely clear what causes PPD, though it seems to be a variety of factors, including:
- Genetic predisposition
- Physiological and biological changes
- Hormone changes
- Brain chemistry issues
- Past struggles with depression
The postpartum period is naturally a stressful time in any new mother’s life because the baby makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep, and your body is coping with major hormone fluctuations, as well as recovering from the physical event of giving birth. This is increased by new and understandably challenging responsibilities.
It’s worth noting that women who have had a miscarriage or abortion can also experience many of the mental and physical effects of postpartum depression.
New research has also found that roughly 10% of male partners can experience their own form of postpartum depression, though this is often related to general lack of sleep, stress, and the lifestyle changes that come with taking care of a newborn baby, rather than hormonal fluctuations.
When Do Postpartum Depression Symptoms Start?
Postpartum depression can start to manifest shortly after giving birth. At first, it can be masked by the general exhaustion and physical changes that all new mothers experience in the early weeks. It may not be until after the initial two-week period of time that you notice feeling out of sorts or struggling emotionally to connect with your baby.
Statistically, 9% of women meet the criteria for PPD within the first year after giving birth. Most postpartum depression symptoms start to deepen over the first four to six weeks after delivery.
How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
Most cases of postpartum depression last three to six months, though some can last longer.
Some of the women who experience a prolonged period of postpartum depression exhibit or experience certain risk factors. Things that might exacerbate postpartum depression symptoms include:
- A history of depression
- A history of mental illness related to brain chemistry imbalances
- Difficulty breastfeeding
- Pregnancy complications
- Delivery complications
- An insufficient support system
- A partner who is not present or isn’t contributing equally with child care
- Major life changes such as losing a job
- Postpartum depression issues from a previous pregnancy
PPD Can Affect Your Quality Of Life
Postpartum depression can do more than just affect your mood. It can make it hard to hold down your job once you are ready to return to work. It can also impact your relationship with your partner or make it hard to connect with other friends and family members.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that when a new mother develops prolonged postpartum depression their partner is twice as likely to also develop depression issues. Disconnection with your partner, friends, and family members can lead to intense feelings of loneliness, which further compound the emotional and physiological components of postpartum depression.
Postpartum Depression Can Make It Difficult To Bond With Your Baby
The changes in brain chemistry, hormones, and mood that often come with postpartum depression can make it hard to fully bond with your baby. If you have other children, they might also feel emotionally disconnected from you in a way that goes beyond a natural sort of sibling rivalry that occurs when a new baby joins the family.
It’s important to understand that none of this is your fault. Postpartum depression affects many women and can impact your life in different ways. Seeking the help you need can help manage symptoms and improve your ability to bond with your baby and reconnect with your partner.
When Should I Contact My Doctor About Postpartum Depression?
The “Baby Blues” are natural and understandable in the first two weeks after giving birth. If you are starting to notice these feelings lingering beyond the two week period, it might be cause for concern. Most new mothers have a follow-up appointment with their physician within the first 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. If you have been noticing symptoms of PPD you should tell your physician and they can advise you. Also, feel free to discuss these feelings with our pediatrician when your baby has appointments. Pediatricians now routinely screen mothers for PPD at their infant’s weight check and check up appointments.
You certainly don’t have to wait that long to seek help for postpartum depression, especially if the symptoms you are experiencing are severe. Remember, help is always available!
How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?
If you have been dealing with PPD symptoms, your physician might refer you to a therapist for further diagnosis and treatment. The treatment process might involve:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is a common strategy for treating multiple forms of depression, including symptoms of PPD.
Many new mothers dealing with PPD find that it helps to share their experiences with other parents who have had PPD.
A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) can often help treat depression symptoms related to a brain chemistry imbalance.