Dealing with Postpartum Depression

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Sad new mother and infant

When you give birth, it's normal to feel a certain amount of emotional upset. However, if you're feeling more than a little sad or weepy and the feeling doesn't go away soon after you have your baby, you may be experiencing a more serious condition known as postpartum depression. Don't take the symptoms of postpartum depression lightly; dealing with this condition is essential for your health.

Understanding and Dealing with Postpartum Depression

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), postpartum depressive disorder (PDD) involves moderate or severe depressive symptoms and occurs within one year of giving birth. Although the onset of this type of depression can happen anytime in this first year, it is most common within the first three months after your child is born.

Where to Get Help

You don't have to suffer through postpartum depression alone. If left untreated, this condition can persist for months and even years. However, working with a professional to get help can have you on the road to recovery.

Call your doctor right away if you're experiencing any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, which include feelings of sadness, sleep disturbances, weight changes, and other signs of a mood disorder. If you have any of the symptoms of postpartum depression for a period longer than two weeks after the birth of your baby, you should contact your doctor for help.

If you feel that you will harm yourself or your baby, call 911 immediately.

Getting a Diagnosis

When you call your doctor, he or she will ask you a series of questions about your mental state. Try to answer as completely as possible. Also offer any additional information you think might be helpful, such as your personal and family health history. Your doctor will then compare your symptoms with those of postpartum depression.

Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), postpartum depression is classified as a sub-type of major depressive disorder. In order for your doctor to diagnose you with postpartum depression, you must have first begun noticing symptoms within one year after the birth of your child. You must also experience a depressed mood and a loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, as well as some of the other symptoms of postpartum depression.

A more severe form of postpartum depression, called postpartum psychosis, affects some women as well. This condition can leave women at risk for harming themselves and their babies, so immediate medical treatment is essential.

Treatment for PDD

After your doctor diagnoses you with postpartum depressive disorder, you will begin treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum depression can be treated with one or more of the following therapies:

  • Antidepressant medications can be extremely effective for postpartum depression. However, some antidepressants aren't appropriate for moms who are breastfeeding. Your doctor can help you find a medication that will work for you and your baby.
  • Hormone-replacement medications can also help counteract the effects of dropping hormone levels. These medications may not be appropriate for breastfeeding moms, so it's important to discuss this option with your doctor.
  • Psychotherapy is also very effective for many cases of PDD. Your doctor can recommend a good physiologist or psychiatrist who can help.

Treatment for PDD is very successful, and most women recover within a few months. You may find that you are able to completely eliminate your symptoms.

How to Cope at Home

Medical treatment is essential for recovery, but you'll also need support at home. A few lifestyle changes can help you recover more quickly:

  • Talk about your feelings, either to friends, family members, or a professional.
  • Make time for yourself. Go out with friends without the baby.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Eat well.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
  • Ask for support from friends and family.
  • Make time for your partner and your relationship.
  • Go easy on yourself; no one is the perfect mother.
  • Don't feel ashamed of your PDD. It's simply a complication of childbirth.
  • Join a mothers' support group in your community.
  • Make some time for exercise, even if it's only 20 minutes a day.

Causes of Postpartum Depression

Learning about the causes of postpartum depression can help you better understand and deal with your condition. The Mayo Clinic reports that several factors can cause postpartum depression and that no one factor is solely responsible for this mood disorder. Possible causes include the following:

  • Hormonal changes, such as a drop in estrogen or progesterone, could contribute to PDD.
  • Stress and life changes can also add to the risk. Likely factors include the challenge of caring for an infant, lack of family support, difficulty balancing needs of older children, problems with breastfeeding, and the financial challenges that come with a new addition.
  • Physical changes can make you more prone to fatigue and depression, including a drop in the amount of blood you have in your body, changes in your immune system, and metabolic changes.
  • Sleep deprivation from getting up with an infant may make it more difficult to maintain your mood.
  • Emotional responses to your changing body, new role, and other factors may also play a part.

Signs of Postpartum Depression

Since a certain amount of mood instability is common after giving birth, it can be difficult to determine whether you're dealing with postpartum depression or simply the "baby blues." The biggest difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues is the duration of the symptoms. With the baby blues, the symptoms will usually go away within a week or two of delivering your child. With postpartum depression, the symptoms do not go away.

According to the NIH, if you're experiencing the following signs, you may have postpartum depression:

  • Feeling withdrawn and having difficulty connecting emotionally with other people
  • Having difficulty concentrating or performing daily tasks
  • Feeling listless, sleepy, or generally tired
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling anxious or agitated
  • Being irritable
  • Feeling worthless or negative about yourself
  • Gaining or losing weight without trying or not feeling hungry
  • Experiencing a loss of pleasure in the activities you once enjoyed
  • Having no interest in your baby
  • Having excessive interest in your baby
  • Feeling like you may harm yourself or your baby
  • Having trouble taking care of yourself and your baby

Who Is at Risk?

According to WebMD, there are several factors that can increase your risk for developing postpartum depression:

  • Women who have experienced postpartum depression with past pregnancies are more at risk for having the condition after the birth of future babies.
  • If you experience depression during pregnancy, you're more likely to deal with postpartum depression after the birth of your child.
  • If you have had depression during other periods of your life, you are more vulnerable to PDD.
  • Women who have a family history of depression or bipolar disorder are more likely to experience PDD.
  • Women who had premenstrual dysphoric disorder prior to becoming pregnant may have an increased risk.
  • If you had a difficult birth and are healing slowly, you may have a greater risk of postpartum depression.
  • Women who don't have enough support from family or who have a particularly challenging baby may be an increased risk.

The National Institute of Health also notes that mothers under the age of 20, those who did not plan their pregnancy, and women who abuse alcohol or drugs are also more vulnerable to PDD.

Help Is Available

If you're suffering from PDD, you aren't alone. Your doctor can help you determine whether your symptoms need treatment, and he or she can recommend medications and other professionals who can offer additional help. With proper treatment, you'll be back to caring for yourself and your little one soon.

Dealing with Postpartum Depression