Postpartum Depression

Unlike pregnancy depression, which occurs while the baby is growing inside its mother, postpartum depression (PPD) occurs after the baby is born. This article will review what is known about causes and risks, symptoms, and information about treatment of postpartum depression.

Though many people associate the period after the birth of a baby as a period of delight in one’s child and relief from the stresses of being pregnant, there are a variety of factors that can lead to depression in the postpartum period.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Have you ever heard of the “baby blues”? It is an experience of as many as 70% of new mothers. It refers to a brief period of up to two weeks after the birth of a baby during which a mother feels mood-related symptoms such as feeling irritable, restless, or anxious or crying for no apparent reason.

The non-scientific name may give you the impression that this is just folklore, but in fact, this experience is recognized and referred to by this name by organizations from the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institute of Health, among others. The important thing to know is that, although “baby blues” is used synonymously with postpartum depression, these are actually two different conditions, although they may share some common symptoms.

Baby blues is usually alleviated by help at home, a supportive atmosphere, and time for the new mother’s hormones to readjust and for her to adjust to her newborn. Postpartum depression is different. It is a condition that affects between 8 and 20% of women post-pregnancy, is of longer duration, has more serious symptoms, and may require treatment. New research has suggested that fathers may experience postpartum depression as well.

Causes and Risks of Postpartum Depression

As the name postpartum depression indicates, this is a type of depression identified by appearing at a particular time of life. And there are a variety of causes that could bring about an episode of depression at this particular time. For one thing, a person who has suffered from depression in other circumstances does not become immune to the same factors causing depression after a child is born. In addition, as at any other time, a stressful or painful event - either involving the baby and delivery or having to do with family, friends, pets, employment, housing, or any other important aspect of life - may lead to depression at this time. And a woman who has been strongly reactive to hormonal changes, as in premenstrual syndrome (PMS), may also react strongly to her body’s attempts to adjust to her post-pregnancy life.

Risk factors specifically related to the situation of being a new parent, such as feeling overwhelmed, having insufficient sleep, or not having enough support can trigger postpartum depression. Specific risk factors linked directly to the pregnancy include elevated risk if the pregnancy was unwanted, if it was difficult, and if the newborn has any type of medical problem or issue, including temporary issues such as colic.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Symptoms of postpartum depression range from moderate to severe, but even someone with a serious case may have good days. As with other types of depression, difficulty in carrying out daily tasks, loss of appetite, insomnia, withdrawal, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, and mood swings are typical. In addition, postpartum depression may manifest as thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby, hallucinations, delusions, and/or paranoia.

Treatment of Postpartum Depression

The serious symptoms may lead to feelings of guilt and discourage a person experiencing postpartum depression from sharing what is happening with anyone or seeking medical advice, but it is extremely important for everyone’s sake that treatment be sought. Two of the treatments for postpartum depression are the same as treatment for any major depression: counseling and antidepressants. However, hormone therapy is another option that is particular to this type of depression and may be appropriate in certain cases. With treatment, postpartum depression is usually ended within a period of several months.

A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that postpartum depression was more likely in women who had high levels of corticotrophin-releasing hormone in about the twenty-fifth week of pregnancy. This new knowledge may allow for prediction of at least one group of women who are likely to have postpartum depression and treatment could then be preventative, rather than only restorative after symptoms appear.

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