If you’re a brand-new mom who expected to be full of joy at this point, it can be upsetting and confusing when you’re actually feeling the opposite.
Rest assured, you’re not alone: Anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of new mothers experience the baby blues – an emotional state of tearfulness, unhappiness, worry, self-doubt, and fatigue. The baby blues typically begin a few days after delivery and go away on their own within a week or two.
However, if your feelings seem unusually intense and have lasted longer than two weeks straight, you may be wondering whether you have a more serious condition.
Could I have postpartum depression?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between clinical depression and the normal stress and exhaustion of new parenthood. But if your feelings of sadness or despair are so powerful that they prevent you from being able to do your daily tasks – such as caring for yourself and others – you could have postpartum depression (PPD). About 10 percent of new mothers develop PPD, but some experts believe the number is even higher because many women don’t seek treatment. If you’re struggling, see your provider right away for a mental health screening.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, postpartum depression can begin in the weeks after pregnancy or even before. (About half of women with PPD have symptoms during pregnancy.)
If your provider thinks you have depression any time after you give birth, she may refer you to a counselor and prescribe antidepressant medication, if necessary, or refer you to a psychiatrist for treatment. Whether you’re diagnosed with depression before, during, or after pregnancy, getting treatment is important.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
The symptoms of PPD and depression that occurs before or during pregnancy are the same. You could have PPD if you experience five or more of the following symptoms almost every day, for most of the day, for at least two consecutive weeks:
1.Extreme sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
2.Crying all the time
3.Loss of interest or lack of enjoyment in your usual activities and hobbies
4.Trouble falling sleep at night, or trouble staying awake during the day
5.Loss of appetite or eating too much, or unintentional weight loss or weight gain
6.Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or overpowering guilt
7.Restlessness or sluggishness
8.Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
9.Feeling that life isn’t worth living
10.Other possible signs you might be depressed include:
-Being irritable or angry
-Avoiding friends and family
-Worrying excessively about your baby
-Being uninterested in your baby, or unable to care for her
-Feeling so exhausted that you’re unable to get out of bed for hours
-In rare cases, some women with PPD experience delusional thoughts or hallucinations and may harm their baby.
Note: If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby, this is an urgent health matter. Contact your provider immediately.
What causes depression after childbirth?
PPD results from a combination of hormonal, environmental, emotional, and genetic factors that are beyond your control. Some women might feel somehow responsible for having PPD, but depression doesn’t happen because of something you did or didn’t do.
You may also be more likely to have PPD if you had depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or if you had the baby blues after delivery. Other factors that contribute to the development of PPD include the physical exhaustion after giving birth, the emotional adjustment of becoming a parent, and sleep deprivation.
What’s the difference between PPD and depression?
One difference is the timing: Depression is called PPD when it occurs during the period after childbirth. And unlike depression that’s not related to pregnancy, PPD is linked to the unique hormonal changes that occur after childbirth. Researchers think that sudden changes in hormone levels after delivering a baby can trigger depression in women who are more sensitive to shifts in estrogen and progesterone.
Am I at risk for postpartum depression?
Some women are at higher risk for PPD. The strongest predictors of postpartum depression are:
Depression or anxiety during pregnancy
Stressful life events during pregnancy or soon after giving birth
Traumatic childbirth experience
A baby needing neonatal intensive care
Lack of social support
Previous history of depression
Other risk factors include:
Baby blues after delivery
Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
A baby with birth defects or other medical problems
Multiple babies (such as twins or triplets)
Family history of psychiatric problems
Low socioeconomic status or financial instability
Many medical appointments during pregnancy
Pregestational or gestational diabetes
Remember that these risk factors don’t actually cause PPD. Many women with multiple risk factors never experience clinical depression or anxiety, while others with just one risk factor (or even none) can end up with a diagnosis of PPD.
How is postpartum depression treated?
The treatment for PPD is the same as the treatment for depression that happens before or during pregnancy. If you have mild symptoms, your provider may recommend watchful waiting with regular check-ins. If your symptoms are more severe, your provider may recommend talk therapy, antidepressant medication, or both.
Talk therapy, also called counseling or psychotherapy, can be one-on-one with your therapist or in a group setting with other women going through a similar experience. In family or couples therapy, a therapist works with you and your partner or relatives.
Antidepressants balance the brain chemicals that regulate your mood. Talk with your provider about the different types of antidepressants – some are combined for best results. You’ll probably start to feel better after taking the medicine for three or four weeks.
Antidepressants can cause side effects, but most will resolve after a short time. If you experience side effects that interfere with your daily life, or if your depression gets worse, let your provider know right away.
Some women have very severe PPD that doesn’t respond to talk therapy or medication. In this case, a healthcare provider may suggest electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). In this treatment, small electrical currents are passed through the brain while the patient is under general anesthesia. Experts believe this electrical stimulation causes chemical changes in the brain that relieve depression symptoms.
Is it safe to take antidepressants while breastfeeding?
It is generally considered safe to take antidepressants while nursing. The medication does pass to your baby through breast milk, but the levels are very low.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered the safest option and are frequently prescribed to breastfeeding women with depression. Other drugs for depression also appear to be safe, including serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and most tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
According to a few studies, the breastfed babies of moms who take antidepressants might be slightly more irritable or have some difficulty feeding or sleeping. However, the babies of moms with untreated depression can also have these same problems.
If you’re wondering whether changes in your baby’s eating, sleeping, or behavior might be caused by your medication, talk to your provider. (Continue taking your medication unless your provider tells you to stop.)
For details on specific medications, see our drug safety during breastfeeding chart.
Why is it important to seek treatment?
Untreated depression can be lonely, confusing, and even scary if your condition gets worse. The good news is that it’s very treatable, so you don’t have to feel this way.
Treatment provides the support you need to keep you from slipping into a deep depression that’s harder to get out of. Also, having a therapist and health care provider who understand your condition can help you feel less alone. And feeling better means you can bond more easily with your baby and be able to take better care of her.
If your provider has recommended watchful waiting, it’s important to continue seeing her for regular appointments while you’re experiencing symptoms, so you can begin talk therapy or medication if you start to feel worse.
What is postpartum anxiety?
Many women with PPD feel worried or anxious, but if you have persistent feelings of intense worry or panic that cause severe distress and keep you from doing your daily activities, you might have an anxiety disorder. Recent research has shown that 8.5 percent of postpartum moms have clinical anxiety.
Common fears include uncontrollable worry about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or fear that your baby will be taken away from you. You might worry excessively about being criticized for your parenting skills or about not having the support of friends and family. You may also feel intensely self-conscious about your postpartum body and fear being intimate with your partner. An anxiety disorder can also affect your physical health. For example, you might experience muscle tension or have trouble sleeping.
Treatment is available for postpartum anxiety disorders, so let your provider know right away if you have any feelings of overwhelming worry or panic.
How do I cope with postpartum depression?
In addition to getting professional help, here are some ways to take care of yourself when you’re dealing with PPD:
Be good to yourself
Make sure your own basic needs are met: Try to sleep and eat well, and do your best not to feel guilty. Having PPD doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother or don’t love your child. After you begin treatment, these feelings of guilt and despair should start to fade.
Don’t demand too much of yourself
If you have clinical depression or anxiety, it can be hard enough just to get out of bed and face the day. Be gentle with yourself, and take things one at a time.
Ask for support
Part of being a good mother is knowing when to ask for help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it during this difficult time. Let your partner know about different ways to help, whether it’s taking care of the baby, handling chores, or going with you to doctor appointments. Relatives or close friends may be able to help as well.
Share your feelings
Keep the lines of communication open with your partner and talk about what’s going on. Call a sympathetic friend. Join a mothers’ group or a PPD support group, or chat with moms about postpartum depression in the BabyCenter Community. You may be surprised by how many women are experiencing similar feelings.
Taking care of your physical self can sometimes help you feel better inside. Have your partner or a friend watch your baby so you can take a shower or a relaxing bath. Put on makeup if you usually wear it. Go on a shopping trip just for yourself and buy something new for your post-baby wardrobe. Wear a favorite outfit on especially difficult days to give yourself a boost.
Get some rest
The rigors of caring for a newborn 24/7 can leave you exhausted. Unfortunately, moms with postpartum mood conditions often can’t sleep when they want to. But it’s still important to take breaks to rest, even if you just read a magazine or watch TV. Taking 10-minute naps is helpful too. Consider hiring a postpartum doula or a sitter experienced with newborns, or asking a relative or friend to watch your baby for an hour or so each day.
Note: Always put your baby on a safe sleep surface (such as his crib or bassinet) before you settle down to rest. Nodding off with your baby in your arms while on a couch or adult bed is a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome and other types of sleep-related injuries and deaths.
Put your baby in a stroller and take a walk around the block, or meet a friend at a nearby café. The fresh air, sunshine, and conversation will do you and your baby a world of good. If even a brief excursion is too much for you right now, then just go outside, close your eyes and take a deep breath, or sit in the sunshine for a few minutes.
Resist the temptation to do the laundry or other chores while your baby sleeps – the housework can wait. Have food delivered, or ask your partner to pick up takeout on the way home. Resist the urge to check your email or phone, and relax with a book and a cup of chamomile tea instead. If you’re on maternity leave, don’t stress about all the work waiting for you at the office – you’ll get back on track soon enough.
My partner has PPD. How can I make life easier for her?
What’s most important is that your partner gets proper treatment. You can’t fix PPD, but you can be there for her.
Your support is vital to her recovery, so offer your partner help whenever she needs it and don’t judge her. You can talk to your partner’s obstetrician, midwife, or therapist to get more information about the condition and better understand what she’s going through.
The postpartum period is hard on partners too, so make sure you get a lot of rest and take care of yourself. After all, you’re also busy tending to your baby’s needs. And the adjustment to new parenthood can be even more difficult when your partner has PPD, especially if you expected life after the baby’s birth to be a joyous time for your family.
Where can I get more information?
For more information, you can contact these organizations:
Postpartum Support International
Coordinators provide support, encouragement, and information about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and can help you find resources in your community.