In the first weeks to months after giving birth, many women experience feelings of sadness intermingled with the joy of having a new baby. Huge adjustments must be made quickly to adapt to the new life in your home and it is often a stressful period—especially for first time mothers. The effects of prolonged sleep deprivation do not help matters.
However, if symptoms of depression become apparent and linger after giving birth, something more serious might be occurring—you may be experiencing Post-Partum Depression (PPD). PPD occurs in about 13% of women, is a major cause of maternal and infant mortality, and can affect infant development. Many women who suffer from PPD frequently feel embarrassed or ashamed for not being able to leap into motherhood with all of the joy and enthusiasm that the rest of the world expects them to immediately have.
There are many reasons why PPD may occur, but the primary one appears to be a sudden d
rop in estrogen and progesterone hormone levels after childbirth. Also, a drop in thyroid hormones can deepen symptoms by causing fatigue, and, paired with changes in physical appearance brought on by pregnancy, feelings of depression can worsen. It is important to keep in mind that it can take weeks—sometimes even months—after the birth, for PPD to fully develop. In about 10% of cases PPD begins during pregnancy.
So how do you know if you are experiencing PPD, and not merely adjusting to yo
ur new baby? Here are some symptoms for you to look out for:
Post-Partum Depression Symptoms
- Swinging between restlessness and extreme fatigue
- Tearfulness, depressed feelings, and a sense of worthlessness
- An increase in indecisiveness and an inability to retain focus
- Increased anxiety caused by thoughts of harming one’s child (either accidentally or intentionally)
- Changes in appetite
- Extreme mood swings
- A lack of motivation
If you are suffering from the above symptoms, it is important to remember that you are dealing with legitimate physical changes and issues that far surpass what are commonly referred to as “baby blues.”
Thanks to a variety ofcelebrities—including Courteney Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marie Osmond—speaking publicly and openly about their own problems with PPD, there is now a wider understanding of the condition. Brooke Shields even wrote a book on the subject, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, which has proved helpful to thousands of women who felt they were alone in this condition.
So what should you do if you are experiencing PPD? The good news is that for many women the condition subsides within three months of giving birth. But any woman experiencing symptoms for longer than a two-week period should consult with a physician (e.g., psychiatry, primary care, obstetrics/gynecology, or pediatrics), who can help her decide if further treatment is needed. This may involve medications, psychotherapy, or both.
Symptoms can worsen over time if left untreated, so it is important to seek help as soon as you realize, or even suspect that, you are suffering from PPD. First and foremost, remember: you are not alone in experiencing this condition and asking for help is the first step on the road to healing.
Stowe ZN et al. The onset of postpartum depression: Implications for clinical screening in obstetrical and primary care. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2005 Feb; 192:522-6.
Dennis C-L et al. Effect of peer support on prevention of postnatal depression among high risk women: Multisite randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2009 Jan 15; 3
Guintivano J et al. Antenatal prediction of postpartum depression with blood DNA methylation biomarkers. Mol Psychiatry 2013 May 21; [e-pub ahead of print].