Postpartum Depression

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Condition updated on October 22nd, 2018

Postpartum Depression

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a form of depression that affects mothers after giving birth. It is a condition that can be quite alarming for a mother, but it is not uncommon. To date, about 15% of childbirths in the United States result in postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can be experienced at varying severity. Mild forms may include crying spells and anxiety. More severe forms have the potential to show psychotic symptoms in mothers.

Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression

A mother experiencing postpartum depression will experience mood swings and anxiety. These symptoms will affect the mother’s ability to bond with her baby. It may also affect her ability to perform her duties as a mother. Mothers with postpartum depression are vulnerable to a number of symptoms, including:

  • Depressed mood and intense crying spells
  • Mood swings and anxiety
  • Typical symptoms of depression
    • (Loss of appetite, changes in sleep patterns, isolating self from friends and family,)
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Negative self-talk
  • Doubt about competence as a mother
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Avoiding contact with baby
  • Inability to bond with baby
  • Thoughts of harming or abandoning the baby

In severe cases, a mother can experience psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions, and disorientation). Symptoms can begin to develop as early as days after giving birth or as late as 6 months after birth.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

There are many factors that can cause postpartum depression. A mother goes through many different changes when she gives birth. For example, there are changes in hormone levels of the body. The body is fatigued from recovering from the birthing process. Also, a new baby can be exhausting. Sleep deprivation and the stress of a crying baby can be overwhelming for a mother. Sleep deprivation and exhaustion also contribute to the mother’s challenges with emotional stability.

New mothers are most vulnerable to postpartum depression. The birth of a mother’s first baby brings about many challenges. Preparation for a new baby is important, but there are some things for which a mother cannot prepare. The challenges that come with a new baby can overwhelm a new mother, causing her to become depressed.

It is important to note there are predisposing issues that can put any woman at risk for postpartum depression. There are lifestyle risk factors to consider, like:

  • Poor emotional regulation skills
  • History of mental illness (specifically anxiety and depressive disorders)
  • Financial issues
  • Relationship issues
  • Poor support system
  • Poor education about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting
  • Family history of postpartum depression or other mental health issues

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

It is important to take postpartum depression seriously. Leaving a case untreated can have devastating consequences. Postpartum depression can last for months, and can have permanent consequences if not properly treated. Fortunately, medical and mental health professionals are well equipped to treat postpartum depression.

Treatment options include:

  • Talk therapy. Talk therapy has proven to be effective in reducing symptoms of postpartum depression. Talk therapy can also help the mother build a support system and safety plan.
  • Psycho-education. Understanding what is going on with a mother’s body, mind, and baby helps a great deal in learning how to cope. It will also help a mother learn what she needs in terms of support and self-care.
  • Psychiatric medication. In some cases, antidepressants will be prescribed to the mother in conjunction with therapy.

Having postpartum depression is scary, but it is not hopeless. If you have concerns about postpartum depression it is important to speak with your doctor and a mental health professional. They will have the resources and tools needed to keep you and your family well.

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