After the birth of a new baby, many moms expect to be filled with love and joy. But for some, the urge to cry and worry may be the dominant experience. It is important to understand the mother's body is going through a lot at this time including fatigue and hormonal changes. If a new mother has had difficulty with depression or anxiety in the past, this may be a particularly vulnerable time for her, although PPD can occur without any history of depression or anxiety.
Baby blues or postpartum depression?
Most consider the intense feelings after childbirth to be normal and the term “baby blues” has been around for a long time. Baby blues should not last for longer than one or two weeks.
Postpartum depression is different than baby blues.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is the development of intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, and despair that begin to interfere with normal functioning and can prevent mothers from performing daily tasks. The symptoms of PPD may interfere with the mother's ability to bond and feel close to her baby.
The onset of PPD usually develops within 4 weeks of birth but may occur as late as 30 weeks after childbirth and affects between 10 to 15% of women.
It is important to understand that PPD exists on a continuum and is not an all or nothing phenomenon. Symptoms can be from mild to severe.
What are the signs of postpartum depression?
The following is a list of Symptoms of PPD. Not all mother's with PPD will experience all of these symptoms, and each situation is unique. You can read more about PPD symptoms here.
- Sadness or depressed mood
- Anxiety or excessive worry
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Excessive crying
- Appetite problems
- Inability to sleep
- Poor concentration
Are some new mothers more likely to become depressed?
Postpartum depression can happen to any new mother. However, there are certain factors that may increase a new mother's risk.
- Prior history of depression and/or anxiety
- A family history of depression or mental illness
- Lack of a social support system
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- A traumatic life event during pregnancy such as a death in the family
- A difficult birth or issues with the baby's health
- Mixed feelings about pregnancy and parenthood
- Pregnancy at a young age (13 to 19 years)
- Low levels of social support (family friends)
- Low levels of support from partner
Impacts of postpartum depression on the mother, baby, and family
If left untreated, PDD can cause significant suffering in the mother during a time when cultural norms expect her to feel joy and satisfaction. The disconnect between expectations and reality can cause compounded distress and guilt. Fathers can also develop depression after the birth of a new baby, a condition called paternal postpartum depression. If the mother is experiencing depression this may add to the father's depression and anxiety.
PPD may interfere with the mother's ability to bond with her baby. These early months and years are crucial to forming a healthy attachment bond. Depressed mothers are more likely to have difficulty responding to the baby's cues and may feel more negative, irritable, or want to disengage from the baby.
Children with mothers who struggle with depression are more likely to develop emotional (depression and anxiety) and behavioral (oppositional, aggression) problems. Delays in language development can also occur as much of infant language development occurs in the context of the relationship with the primary caregiver, usually (but not always) the mother.
This does not mean that normal bouts of sadness and anxiety will harm the development of your baby. Negative developmental outcomes are associated with ongoing depression that is left untreated.
When to seek help
If you or someone you love is feeling depressed after the birth of a baby, it is important to talk to your doctor and seek help from a therapist.
Here are some guidelines for when to seek help:
- If your depression does not fade after two weeks
- If you feel you are getting worse
- If your mood and physical symptoms (fatigue, loss of appetite, poor concentration) is making it difficult to care for yourself and your baby
- If your mood and physical symptoms make it difficult to perform everyday tasks
- If you have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby
Treatment for postpartum depression
If you are feeling depressed after the birth of your baby treatment should be sought. Therapy and medication are effective for PPD.
In general, therapy should be the first line of treatment with progression to medication if necessary. If the mother is breastfeeding, therapy is recommended if possible when depression is mild or moderate. However, treatment decisions are made based on each mother's individual situation.
If you feel your depression is severe or you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, talk to your doctor and therapist right away. Research about the safety of medications for breastfeeding mothers has been conducted. It is necessary to weigh the benefits and risks of medication.
Reach out for help today
If you or someone you love is suffering from postpartum depression reach out to one of our therapists or learn more about online therapy. It is also recommended to talk to your doctor; there is no need to be without help during this time.
Fitelson, E., Kim, S., Baker, A. S., & Leight, K. (2011). Treatment of postpartum depression: clinical, psychological and pharmacological options. International journal of women's health, 3, 1.
Ghaedrahmati, M., Kazemi, A., Kheirabadi, G., Ebrahimi, A., & Bahrami, M. (2017). Postpartum depression risk factors: A narrative review. Journal of education and health promotion, 6, 60-60.