When you give birth, it's normal to feel a certain amount of emotional upset. However, if you're feeling more than a little sad or weepy and the feeling doesn't go away soon after you have your baby, you may be experiencing a more serious condition known as postpartum depression, or PPD.
If the sadness isn't going anywhere, it may be time for some postpartum depression self-care. Don't take the symptoms of PPD lightly; dealing with this condition is essential for your health. Let your friends and family help you, and let your healthcare provider know what's going on. Many people experience postpartum depression. Nothing is wrong with you for feeling this way. Your provider can help you and your family get you the support you need while you cope with these symptoms.
What is Postpartum Depression?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, postpartum depressive disorder involves moderate or severe depressive symptoms and occurs within one year of giving birth. Although the onset of this type of depression can happen anytime in this first year, it is most common within the first three months after your child is born.
Causes of Postpartum Depression
Learning about the causes of postpartum depression can help you better understand and deal with your condition. The Mayo Clinic reports that several factors can cause postpartum depression and that no one factor is solely responsible for this mood disorder. Possible causes include the following:
- Emotional responses to your changing body and new role
- Hormonal changes, such as a drop in estrogen or progesterone
- Sleep deprivation from getting up with an infant
Physical changes, including a drop in the amount of blood you have in your body, changes in your immune system, and metabolic changes, can make you more prone to fatigue and depression. Stress and life changes also add to the risk. New moms have plenty of those, like the challenge of caring for an infant, lack of family support, difficulty balancing needs of older children, problems with breastfeeding, and the financial challenges that come with a new addition, among others.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
Since a certain amount of mood instability is common after giving birth, it's difficult to determine whether you're dealing with postpartum depression or simply the "baby blues." The biggest difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues is the duration of the symptoms. With the baby blues, the symptoms will usually go away within a week or two of delivering your child. With postpartum depression, the symptoms do not go away.
According to the NIH, if you're experiencing the following signs, you may have postpartum depression:
- Difficulty concentrating or performing daily tasks
- Excessive irritability
- Experiencing a loss of pleasure in the activities you once enjoyed
- Feeling anxious or agitated
- Feeling listless, sleepy, or generally tired
- Feeling withdrawn and having difficulty connecting emotionally with other people
- Feeling worthless or negative about yourself
- Gaining or losing weight without trying
- Having excessive interest in your baby
- Having no interest in your baby
- Having trouble taking care of yourself and your baby
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Whether you are experiencing one or all of these symptoms, don't be afraid to ask for help.
Who Is at Risk?
According to WebMD, there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing postpartum depression. Those who have experienced postpartum depression with past pregnancies are more at risk for having the condition after the birth of future babies. If you experience depression during pregnancy, you're more likely to deal with postpartum depression after the birth of your child. Here are some other factors that could increase your risk:
- Depression during other periods of your life
- Difficult birth and slow healing
- Family history of depression or bipolar disorder
- Lack of a good support system
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder prior to becoming pregnant
The National Institute of Health also notes that mothers under the age of 20, those who did not plan their pregnancy, and women who abuse alcohol or drugs are also more vulnerable to PPD.
Getting a Diagnosis
When you call your healthcare provider, he or she will ask you a series of questions about your mental state. Try to answer as completely as possible. Also offer any additional information you think might be helpful, such as your personal and family health history. Your doctor will then compare your symptoms with those of postpartum depression.
Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), postpartum depression is classified as a sub-type of major depressive disorder. In order for your doctor to diagnose you with postpartum depression, your symptoms would have started within one year after the birth of your child.
A more severe form of postpartum depression, called postpartum psychosis, affects some women as well. This condition can leave women at risk for harming themselves and their babies, so immediate medical treatment is essential.
How to Help Postpartum Depression
After your doctor diagnoses you with postpartum depressive disorder, you will begin treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum depression can be treated with one or more of the following therapies:
- Antidepressant medications can be extremely effective for postpartum depression. However, some antidepressants aren't appropriate for moms who are breastfeeding. Your provider can help you find a medication that will work for you and your baby.
- Hormone-replacement medications can also help counteract the effects of dropping hormone levels. These medications also may not be appropriate for breastfeeding moms, so it's important to discuss this option with your provider.
- Psychotherapy is also very effective for many cases of PPD. Your doctor can recommend a good psychologist or psychiatrist who can help.
Treatment for PPD is very successful, and most women recover within a few months.
How to Deal with PPD at Home
Medical treatment is essential for recovery, but you'll also need support at home. Talk about your feelings, either to friends, family members, or a professional. A few lifestyle changes can help you recover more quickly:
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs
- Eat well
- Get as much sleep as you can
- Join a mothers' support group in your community
- Make some time for exercise, even if it's only 20 minutes a day
- Make time for yourself---go out solo or with friends, without the baby
Ask for support from friends and family and make time for your partner and your relationship. Don't feel ashamed of your PPD. It's simply a complication of childbirth.
Where to Get Help
You don't have to suffer through postpartum depression alone. If left untreated, this condition can persist for months and even years. However, working with a professional can put you on the road to recovery.
Call your provider right away if you're experiencing any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, which include feelings of sadness, sleep disturbances, weight changes, and other signs of a mood disorder. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression for a period longer than two weeks after the birth of your baby, contact your provider for help.
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, call 911 immediately.
If you're suffering from PPD, you aren't alone. Your doctor can help you determine whether your symptoms need treatment, and they can recommend medications and other professionals who can offer additional help. With proper treatment, you'll be back to caring for yourself and your little one soon.