Pregnancy can be an exciting time, and the birth of a baby is often thrilling and joyful. This time in your life can also be stressful, involving many life changes. Hormonal changes and planning and caring for a new baby can take a toll on a mother’s well-being. It is quite common for a new mother’s mood to be low after the birth of a baby, but if it develops into symptoms of depression, it is important for both mother and baby that she seek treatment.
Postpartum blues, or the “baby blues,” occur within a few days of delivery and involves mild, but often rapid, mood swings from elation and joy to sadness, irritability, anxiety, trouble with concentration, inability to sleep, tearfulness, and crying spells. Postpartum blues are very common: it is estimated that 40-80% of postpartum women develop these mood changes, which typically peak on the fifth postpartum day, last less than two weeks, and do not usually require medical intervention. Although the symptoms are mild, they could increase a mother’s chances of developing postpartum depression. Anxiety about caring for the baby, safety, and being a good mother is also very common and should improve with time. If anxiety is severe or continues over time, it can be associated with symptoms of depression.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is when a mother, in her first year after delivery, feels sad or uninterested in most activities, most of the day, every day, and also has:
5 or more of the symptoms above that last for 2 weeks or more may indicate depression.
Postpartum depression is common, affecting 10-25% of postpartum women at some point in their lifetime. It increases the chance that a woman will become depressed again in the future.
The causes of postpartum depression are not yet well understood, but likely involve biological, genetic, and psychosocial factors. A personal and family history of depression or postpartum depression can put you at increased risk, as can sensitivity to hormonal changes in pregnancy and the postpartum period, poor social support, relationship problems, and differences in coping style and temperament. Being within 5 weeks of delivering and having your first delivery are also risk factors. Not everyone responds to stressful life events with symptoms of depression, but if you are at increased risk because of other factors, you may be more likely to become depressed after a stressor, like childbirth.
What should you do? Talk to your doctor, nurse, or midwife. Your OB, primary care, or mental health clinician can help identify symptoms of postpartum blues or depression. Because new mothers may be overwhelmed and not sleeping much, it can be hard to self-diagnose. One study showed most women with PPD did not realize they had depression, and most did not tell their doctors about their symptoms. Some medical practices administer self-reporting scales which can help with early detection of depression.
Treatment for postpartum blues can include improving support systems and ensuring adequate nutrition and sleep for the mother. Brief use of anti-anxiety or sleep medication may also be helpful.
Treatment for postpartum depression can include individual talk therapy, group therapy, medications, light therapy, and mind-body-centered treatments. With effective treatment available, mothers with depression can reach the point where they feel completely better and more like themselves. It is important to be open with your clinicians about symptoms so that you can be guided to the proper resources.
Benefits of treatment
Paternal postpartum depression is a recently identified phenomenon in which fathers have been shown to be at higher risk for depression after the birth of a child, frequently in the 3-6 months postpartum period. It has been estimated that 1 in 4 new fathers suffer from depression, which is 5 times greater than the risk for other men. Having a history of depression and having a depressed partner can make paternal postpartum depression more likely.
Learn more about postpartum depression:
National Women’s Health Information Center: http://www.womenshealth.gov/
Parental Stress Line: http://www.parentshelpingparents.org/ phone: 800-632-8188
Online PPD Support group: http://www.ppdsupportpage.com/
For Fathers: www.postpartumdads.org/
Postpartum Support International of Massachusetts
Jewish Family & Children’s Services: 1430 Main Street, Waltham, MA 02451 / Phone: 781-647-JFCS (5327)
Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health