Postpartum or perinatal depression is a form of depression that occurs following the birth of a baby. It’s a relatively common but serious medical condition, affecting up to 1 in 7 new mothers after birth.
Postpartum depression can make you feel empty, emotionless, and sad. It can cause changes in mood, exhaustion, and a general sense of hopelessness for a long time after birth.
People should not take postpartum depression lightly. It’s a serious disorder, but various treatment programs can help people overcome it. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, you need to know that you’re not alone and that you can recover.
Postpartum depression can affect people of all gender and sexual identities and all types of parents and their partners, be they birth, surrogate, or adoptive. There’s no singular ‘normal’ way to be a parent.
Feelings of postpartum and perinatal depression are always valid and are never your fault.
Many people feel sad, empty, moody, or fatigued within a few days of giving birth — a condition nicknamed “baby blues.” But postpartum depression goes well beyond that, lasting for weeks after you give birth. Its symptoms can be severe and interfere with your ability to function.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can vary from person to person and even from day to day. While symptoms can develop anytime after childbirth, they often start within 1 to 3 weeks after having a baby.
Postpartum depression can make you feel disconnected from your baby. You may feel as though you don’t love your baby. These feelings are not your fault.
- feeling sad or crying a lot
- feeling overwhelmed
- having thoughts of hurting the baby or yourself
- not having an interest in the baby
- having no energy or motivation
- feeling worthless, guilty, or like you are a bad parent
- sleeping too much or too little
- change in relationship with food
- feeling anxious
- having chronic headaches, aches, pains, or stomach problems
But postpartum depression doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent, and it’s not your fault. If you notice symptoms, you need to tell a healthcare professional and seek treatment to feel better.
If you have symptoms of postpartum depression, you should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible to start treatment.
Treatment for postpartum depression
Medications for postpartum depression
In some cases, you may need to try a few medications before finding one that works and has manageable side effects.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are a common antidepressant medication. SSRIs generally have fewer side effects than other antidepressants and include paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft)
- Atypical antidepressants. These target several neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. They may help treat depression that does not respond to SSRIs. Examples of atypical antidepressants include bupropion (Wellbutrin), trazodone (Desyrel), and nefazodone (Serzone).
- Tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These are two older classes of antidepressants that are less common.
- Brexanolone: This is given by a healthcare professional through an IV over the course of
60 hours. Doctors often recommend brexanolone for patients who do not respondto other treatments.
All antidepressants can cause side effects, which may vary in severity. Side effects from antidepressants can include feelings of agitation or anxiety, digestive issues, and headaches, among others.
Chestfeeding people have options of medication and treatment. Your doctor can help choose one that’s a safe choice while chestfeeding.
Learn more about the types of depression medications and their side effects here.
After delivering a baby, levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone drop dramatically.
Side effects of hormone therapy with estrogen may include:
- weight changes
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal cramps
- migraine and headaches
- changes in vaginal discharge
- hair loss
- high blood pressure
- enlargement of uterine fibroids
- vaginal yeast infections
Studies have found that a specific type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can
CBT involves learning and using techniques and strategies that enable you to change your thinking patterns, recognize distortions in thinking, use problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations, and develop greater confidence in your own abilities.
Postpartum depression is a serious and debilitating condition, and you should not attempt to treat it without a healthcare professional’s input.
But at-home practices like eating a healthy diet, regularly engaging in gentle exercise, practicing meditation or yoga, and spending time in nature
Learn more about natural remedies for postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression can feel exhausting and isolating, so it’s important to take time to yourself and reach out to family and friends and ask for help when you need it. Joining support groups can also help.
The exact cause isn’t clear, but some factors may contribute to postpartum depression. Postpartum depressive episodes can result from a combination of physical changes and emotional stressors.
While you’re pregnant, your levels of estrogen and progesterone are higher than usual. Within hours of giving birth, hormone levels drop back to their previous state.
This abrupt change may play a role in the development of postpartum depression.
Other physical factors that may contribute to the development of postpartum depression include:
- low thyroid hormone levels
- sleep deprivation
- underlying medical conditions
- drug and alcohol misuse
Research suggests that undergoing stressful experiences during pregnancy can
Emotional stressors may include:
- recent divorce
- death of a loved one
- financial stress
Learn more about the causes of postpartum depression here.
People experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression for more than 2 weeks within the first year of giving birth should contact a healthcare professional for a postpartum depression screening.
A medical professional will be able to assess your symptoms and medical history to reach a diagnosis.
They’ll typically look out for and ask about:
- depression symptoms
- disturbances to sleep patterns
- feelings of decreased energy
- feelings of irritability
As part of the diagnosis, a doctor will also identify other risk factors for depression and associated conditions. These can include:
- recent stressful life events
- a history of depression
- outside stressors
- your medication history
Your doctor may also order a blood test to check if a disorder like thyroid disease or a nutrient deficiency may be contributing to your depression.
Postpartum depression is common and may not be entirely preventable. But knowing the signs of postpartum depression may help you manage the condition and get treatment faster should you need it.
Additionally, participating in interpersonal therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy during and after pregnancy may reduce the risk of postpartum depression in those at an increased risk of developing it.
You may also be able to reduce your chances of developing postpartum depression by:
- finding a support system of friends and families before your baby is born
- taking antenatal and postnatal educational classes
- having an arrangement for child care in place so you can take a break
- maintaining a balanced diet and trying to get some exercise and fresh air every day
- getting adequate sleep and general rest
- reducing alcohol intake or avoiding it altogether
Without treatment, postpartum depression
Severe postpartum depression may be life threatening, but effective treatment options exist.
The most severe form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is rare, affecting
The earliest symptoms of postpartum psychosis are restlessness, irritability, and insomnia. Hallucinations —when you see, hear, or smell things that aren’t there — and delusions are also common.
Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency, and the risk of hurting yourself or your baby — either deliberately or accidentally — is real.
Postpartum anxiety is even more common than postpartum depression, with some research suggesting that it affects
- excessive or constant worry
- feelings of dread
- poor concentration
- irritability and tension
- chest pain
- heart palpitations
- tingling in arms or legs
Postpartum OCD is less common than postpartum depression and anxiety, with a prevalence rate of between 2-9 percent. It usually develops within a week of delivery.
Obsessions could be about anything, but they’re likely to focus on the baby’s safety. If you have postpartum OCD, you might engage in ritualistic behaviors related to those thoughts. These may include:
- repetitive organizing and cleaning, and obsessing over germs
- repeatedly checking on your baby during the night
- mental compulsions, like constantly praying for your baby’s safety
A combination of medication and psychotherapy can be effective in treating postpartum OCD.
Learn more about treatments for OCD.
The partners of birthing parents can also develop a type of postpartum depression called paternal postnatal depression.
Males are less likely to report symptoms of depression, but estimates say
There are numerous other potential risk factors that might contribute to the development of postpartum depression in males,
Depression can be treated with antidepressant medications, either alone or with therapy.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, you should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible to discuss treatment and address your physical symptoms.
They can also refer you to a therapist or other local resources to help you navigate the postpartum period and your diagnosis.
These organizations can help guide you to the appropriate resources:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): A mental illness organization dedicated to supporting and building better lives for Americans affected by mental illness.
- Postpartum Support International: This resource offers education, online support, and information about local resources. You can reach them by calling 800-944-4773.
- Postpartum Depression Support Groups in the U.S. and Canada: This is a comprehensive list of support groups around the United States (by state) and Canada.
- Postpartum Progress: This organization has information and support for pregnant people and new parents who have postpartum depression and anxiety.
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