A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Don’t keep postpartum depression a secret

Mother holding baby in close embrace - Dealing with postpartum depression

Postpartum depression affects one in eight mothers during the year after baby is born.

After the birth of a baby, many moms experience a multitude of strong emotions ranging from excitement and joy to apprehension, fear and uncertainty.

Childbirth also may lead to unexpected mood changes. Some mothers experience mild, short-term postpartum blues while others are affected by serious and concerning depression, called postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis may develop after childbirth.

Not just baby blues

Postpartum blues is a common condition after childbirth that includes symptoms such as unexpected crying spells, mood swings, difficulty sleeping and anxiety, said Dr. Alpa Shah, a Marshfield Clinic psychiatrist. Symptoms are mild, typically begin two to three days after delivery and improve within two weeks.

More severe symptoms that don’t go away signal postpartum depression (PPD), a severe depressive episode that affects one in eight women during the year after giving birth.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sadness
  • Sleep changes
  • Appetite changes
  • Hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide

Depression affects women’s relationships and ability to function at home, work or school.

History of depression a risk factor

Women who experienced depression at any other time in their lives are at increased risk for postpartum depression, Shah said. Women diagnosed with postpartum depression have a 50 percent chance of symptoms recurring after another pregnancy.

About 60 percent of women evaluated for postpartum depression said symptoms started in their third trimester of pregnancy.

Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of depression
  • History of hormone-related mood symptoms
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Stress
  • Young maternal age
  • Lack of partner support

Postpartum depression affects families

Moms aren’t the only ones affected by postpartum depression. It can interfere with normal bonding between mother and baby. Babies exposed to depressed mothers for a long period of time are more likely to have emotional, behavioral and psychiatric difficulties later in life.

“Postpartum depression can take a toll on the entire family,” Shah said.

If your partner or relative is experiencing postpartum depression, offer support. Give her a break from childcare duties and household chores. Let her get uninterrupted sleep or alone time, make sure she eats a healthy diet and encourage her to get medical treatment.

Get medical help for a medical illness

If you have symptoms of depression lasting two weeks or more, talk to a mental health professional, your primary care doctor or OB-GYN. Postpartum depression can be treated with counseling and/or medications. If you have thoughts of suicide, call 911.

If you do not have a primary care doctor, you can request an appointment with a Marshfield Clinic doctor online.

Some women are embarrassed to admit they are depressed after giving birth. Postpartum depression isn’t a weakness. It’s a common complication for women after childbirth.

“Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad mother,” Shah said. “Depression is like any other medical illness you would see a doctor about and be treated for.”

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