As a new mother, you expect to be excited, overjoyed, and at least slightly anxious about all of the big changes that just took place. Unfortunately, an estimated 50-75% of new mothers will experience “baby blues” and around 15% will develop a more severe and long-lasting depression termed postpartum depression. It can be hard to distinguish between the baby blues and full-fledged postpartum depression. Luckily, professionals are very aware of the subtle differences and can begin treatment to help you feel like yourself again. Let’s take a closer look at the causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatments of postpartum depression.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of postpartum depression is still unknown. Many physical and emotional changes occur following childbirth, and these are collectively deemed the root cause. There are some identified risk factors that have been studied to help prepare for cases of postpartum depression before they occur. Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical and family history to determine if you are more prone to postpartum depression than other expectant mothers.
- Physical Changes: Following childbirth, a woman’s hormone levels drop drastically and quickly. It’s largely believed that this dramatic chemical balance change can cause you to feel sluggish, tired, and depressed.
- Emotional Changes: Emotions run high during pregnancy thanks to hormone shifts as well as stress brought on by issues sleeping, anxiety about the upcoming changes in your life, and fear about your motherly abilities. Following childbirth, these emotions can get stronger or worse, resulting in low self-esteem and postpartum depression.
- Risk Factors
- A history of depression, especially after childbirth
- An existing mental illness
- Family members who experienced postpartum depression
- Family history of mental illnesses
- You’ve recently experienced stressful situations, especially during the pregnancy
- Your baby has health problems
- You are giving birth to multiple babies
- You have a strained relationship with your spouse or significant other
- You do not have a strong support system
- You are under financial distress
- The pregnancy was unwanted or unplanned
There are other more subtle risk factors that your doctor can identify. Tests may be conducted to determine if you have any underlying health issues that could put you at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can present differently in each person. Some cases of postpartum depression will be more severe than others based on a large list of reasons. It’s important to note that “baby blues syndrome” is extremely common and will show many of the same symptoms. However, baby blues will diminish within two weeks and rarely interfere with your daily life apart from being slightly irritating. Hundreds of studies have been conducted on the phenomenon of full-fledged postpartum depression, and lists of the most common symptoms have been created. It’s important to see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than one to two weeks.
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Withdrawal from friends and families
- Difficulties bonding with your baby
- Intense emotions, especially anger and sadness
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping for excessive periods of time
- New or worsening anxiety/panic attacks
- Feeling worthless or undeserving of love
- No longer enjoying your favorite activities
- Crying fits
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Everyday tasks become harder to focus on and accomplish
- Drastic change in appetite
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- Thoughts of harming your baby
If something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can help to identify the issue and provide treatment options should they be needed. Many doctors will schedule a check-in one to two weeks following delivery to check for signs of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression treatment will vary by case. Treatment is rarely severe and you should see improvements relatively quickly. In most cases of postpartum depression, treatment consists of counseling or therapy sessions, antidepressant medications, or hormone therapy. Unlike general depression disorders, you will likely not require treatment for more than a few months for postpartum depression. Therapy and medications can help to correct any hormonal or chemical imbalances brought on my delivery, and your body will be better able to self-maintain. Your doctor will choose the dosage that’s right for you and will make adjustments to your prescriptions as necessary. Left untreated, postpartum depression can last for much longer and can develop into a more serious case that puts you and your baby in harm’s way. It’s best to get checked sooner rather than later so that treatment works faster and more effectively.
Do you still have questions about postpartum depression? We have even more information about this topic and many others in our book “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Pregnancy But Were Too Afraid or Embarrassed to Ask.” We explore topics about pregnancy that no book has discussed before because we believe that women have the right to know and understand what is going on inside their bodies. Purchase the book here or visit the Twin Doctors TV website to learn more!