Postpartum Depression

Sara Horner, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist
St. Alexius Archway Mental Health Services

Postpartum DepressionUp to 70 percent of new mothers experience the “Baby Blues,” which includes mood swings and crying spells.  These symptoms are fairly common and generally fade within a few days following birth.  However, about 13 percent of new mothers experience a more severe, long-lasting depression, which is known as postpartum depression.  These symptoms last longer (at least two weeks) and often interfere with the woman’s ability to care for the baby and for herself. 

The symptoms of postpartum depression emerge within a month of giving birth.  Symptoms include mood swings, increased irritability, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, energy loss, and sometimes feelings of hopelessness and even thoughts about harming oneself or the newborn.  Untreated it can last for a year or longer.  Treated it generally goes away within a few months. 

It is uncertain what “causes” postpartum depression, although there are many contributing factors.  We do know that there are physical changes following childbirth, including a drastic drop in hormone levels.  This change in itself can leave a person feeling tired, sluggish, and depressed.  Additionally, there are also changes in a person’s blood pressure, immune system, and metabolism.  These changes can further stress the body and contribute to mood swings and fatigue.  Genetically, some women may be more pre-disposed toward developing postpartum depression.  Other factors that will increase the likelihood of developing postpartum depression include stressful events such as financial concerns, loss of a loved one, illness, pregnancy complications, moving to a new home, relational problems, lack of social support, and even sleep deprivation. 

There are many women who experienced postpartum depression and lived in a state of anxiety and hopelessness, who did not seek help.  When asked why they didn’t seek help, the number one reason people cite is that they felt guilty about what they were feeling and experiencing.  They had expected to feel happy and excited about being a new mother and instead they felt depressed.  As a result, people worry that they are a disappointment, a failure, or a bad mother.  In actuality, it is not the person who is the problem, but the depression that is affecting the person at that time.  Overcoming depression allows women to be themselves again, and to be the person and parent they want to be. 

Treatment for postpartum depression usually includes medication and psychotherapy.  Medications often prescribed are antidepressants and sometimes hormone replacement.  Therapy is a place for women to gain support, talk through their difficulties and solve problems.  Therapy also provides education and encouragement for people to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy, making time for herself, spending quality time with the newborn, and accepting help from family and friends rather than trying to do it all herself. 

If you think you or a loved one may have symptoms of postpartum depression, it is best to see a doctor right away.  Early treatment can lesson the length and severity of the depression.