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Postpartum Depression

Teresa Shaw |30, June 2008


Postpartum Depression

The baby has arrived and everyone is thrilled—except you. It's not uncommon for new moms to feel a range of emotions—love, happiness, joy, anxiety, fear—and sometimes depression. If you're feeling depressed, irritable, sad, angry, stressed or worried, know that you are not alone and that there is something that can be done about it.

The American Pregnancy Association divides postpartum mood disorders into three subcategories: 

  • Baby blues
  • postpartum depression
  • Postpartum psychosis

Each of these has a variety of symptoms and vary in severity and intensity. Following is a breakdown of the three and more information on PPD.

Baby Blues

The baby blues are the mildest form of postpartum depression, and occur suddenly four to five days after the birth of the baby. Symptoms include crying for no reason, impatience, anxiety and irritability.

Postpartum Depression

The American Pregnancy Association estimates that 10% of new mothers experience what is classified as postpartum depression (PPD). Symptoms can begin as soon as a few days after delivering to up to a year after giving birth. Women suffering from PPD will have good days and bad days, but generally will experience fatigue, sadness, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, and feelings of guilt.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis (PPP) is the most severe and most rare form of postpartum depression. It occurs in about 1 out of every 1,000 pregnancies, and symptoms usually appear 2-3 weeks after giving birth. Signs of PPP include bizarre behavior, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and delusion. It is considered a medical emergency and should be treated immediately.

Causes of Postpartum Depression

While there is no single cause of postpartum depression, physical changes, emotional factors and lifestyle influences can all contribute.

Physical changes
After a woman gives birth, estrogen and progesterone levels plummet, which may contribute to postpartum depression. The hormones produced by the thyroid also may drop sharply—which can leave you feeling sluggish and depressed. Changes in blood volume and pressure, in your immune system, and your metabolism can also cause feelings of fatigue and mood swings.

Emotional factors
New parents are perpetually sleep deprived and can feel overwhelmed, which can lead to trouble handling even minor issues. In addition, you may feel nervous about your ability to care for a newborn baby and struggle with your sense of identity. These factors can each contribute to postpartum depression.

Lifestyle influences
A demanding or fussy baby or older siblings, trouble breastfeeding, financial worries, exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed or unsupported can all lead to postpartum depression.

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can develop after the birth of any child, not just the first. The risk increases if:

  • You have a history of depression, either during pregnancy or at other times in your life.
  • You've had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy.
  • Stressful events have occurred during the past year, such as illness, job loss or pregnancy complications
  • You're experiencing marital conflict
  • You do not have a strong support system
  • The pregnancy is unplanned or unwanted

Getting Help

There are different treatment options available, depending on which subcategory of postpartum depression you have. The baby blues generally go away on their own. In the meantime, you can treat yourself by getting plenty of rest, accepting help when offered and asking for help when needed, connecting with other new moms, and talking to your doctor.

Postpartum depression is often treated with counseling and medication. Talk to your doctor at your next appointment, or make a special appointment to talk, and to go over your treatment options. Postpartum depression usually goes away within a few months; however, in some cases, it can last for up to a year—and sometimes not show up until a few months after giving birth. It's important to continue your treatment even once you are feeling better; stopping too early may lead to a relapse.

Postpartum psychosis is considered a medical emergency and should be treated immediately, usually in a hospital. A combination of medications may be used to treat postpartum psychosis.

A variety of resources and support groups are available for those suffering from PPD. Talk to your doctor or hospital, friends and family. Resources are also available online including Baby Corner's Postpartum Depression Message Board.

Teresa Shaw is a professional editor and freelance writer with a degree in English and journalism. She writes about motherhood, travel, and cooking, among other topics, for a variety of print and online markets. She enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, two cats, and dog.

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