The National Institute of Mental Health defines postpartum depression (PPD) as a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Typically, symptoms begin to surface in the first four weeks after delivery, but can be present any time during the first year. It is estimated that 15-20% of women experience postpartum depression. However, PPD is believed to be underreported due to fear, shame, lack of awareness, and lack of resources, indicating that the true prevalence is significantly higher. Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- impaired sleep and appetite
- discomfort around baby
- difficulty bonding with baby
- loss of focus and concentration
- loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- emotion dysregulation/frequent mood shifts
- thoughts of harming self or baby
*all of these symptoms do not have to be present for a diagnosis
After childbirth, women can also experience “baby blues.” Researchers and practitioners often distinguish between “baby blues” and PPD by explaining that the symptoms of PPD are more intense and often interfere with one’s daily functioning and self-care. The experience of “baby blues” (i.e. sadness, feelings of guilt, anxiety, missing ‘old life’) in the first two weeks after childbirth is fairly common and these symptoms often subside on their own. After giving birth, women experience a swift decline in pregnancy hormones (progesterone and estrogen), and this can contribute to the onset of depression. However, additional factors can increase a woman’s risk for PPD, including: previous history of depression, history of postpartum depression, poor social support, intimate partner violence, breastfeeding difficulties, and socioeconomic status.
Postpartum depression is considered the most common complication of childbirth and help is available. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you are encouraged to reach out to your Primary Care Physician or OBGYN and express your concerns. Treatment for PPD can include psychiatric medications, typically antidepressants, and/or therapy with a licensed professional. Clinicians often use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in their work with women suffering with PPD. It can also be extremely helpful to seek support from family and friends.
After having a baby, there is often such excitement and joy, and the experience of negative emotions can cause a woman to feel shame. Postpartum depression is more common than we’ve believed, however, and is not an indication that we are ‘bad’, weak, or unable to love our children. It is easy to forget to take care of ourselves, especially after becoming a mom, but we know that we are better to others when we are mindful of our own needs and make time for self-care. I encourage you to reach out to your medical providers and your support network, as often as necessary, in the months following the arrival of your baby. If you believe you are experiencing postpartum depression, you do not have to suffer and you are not alone.
The above information is intended to provide education related to postpartum depression, and does not act as a method for treatment/diagnosis. Call your physician for additional information. If you are experiencing significant thoughts to hurt yourself, your baby, or others, please call a medical professional or 911. There are also telephone help lines available; some are listed below:
- PSI HelpLine (Postpartum Support International) 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD) *available in English & Spanish
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Additional resources: Postpartum Support International
Addition reading recommended by Hello My Tribe: The Struggle Of New Moms With Postpartum Depression: A story in pictures.
Nicole is a new mama and Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey. Nicole has experience working in an outpatient women’s trauma program, as well as with clients with substance use disorders in various levels of care. After having her first child last year, Nicole began increasing her education and awareness of perinatal mood disorders. Nicole currently works in private practice.