Postpartum depression is a type of depression that occurs in new mothers after giving birth to their baby. It is most common in first-time mothers however according to studies it occurs in 10-15% of all mothers and is characterized by depressed mood, tearfulness, recurrent thoughts of death, insomnia, fatigue, feelings of guilt, poor concentration, appetite disturbance, suicidal thoughts, and lack of interest. These symptoms interfere with the mother’s ability to care for herself and her baby. Postpartum depression develops most commonly in the first four months following delivery however it can occur anytime in the first year after delivery and therefore this disorder often goes unrecognized by many individuals including mental healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, many moms blame themselves
for developing these feelings after birth however this is an illness that is not brought on by the mother and causes are specific to genetics and hormones. While some women are predisposed to experiencing postpartum depression, PPD can affect anyone, including women who experience a normal delivery and give birth to a healthy child. Moms who have developed postpartum depression should never feel guilty nor blame themselves.
Risk factors associated with postpartum depression
- History of depression during pregnancy or before pregnancy
- First-degree relative with depression
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Chronic stress associated with divorce, loss of a loved one, unemployment or financial troubles.
- Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy
- Under 19 years of age
- History of diabetes before or during pregnancy
- Pregnancy Complication
- Current use of tobacco, excessive alcohol or illicit drugs
- Trouble breastfeeding
- Trouble caring for your baby
- Negative thoughts about being a mom/having trouble adjusting to being a mom
Negative thoughts and feelings about being a mom can include
- Having doubts that you can be a good mom
- Putting pressure on yourself to be a perfect mom
- Feeling that you are no longer the person you were before you had your baby
- Feeling that you are less attractive after having your baby
- Having no free time for yourself
- Feeling tired and moody because you aren’t sleeping well or getting enough sleep
Treatment for postpartum depression
Treatment for postpartum depression consists of a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and psychotherapy. Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are the first-line pharmacological treatment approach for postpartum depression and work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, increasing the levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is known to regulate and increase mood. Estrogen has also been given to treat postpartum depression. Both estrogen and SSRIs can potentially interfere with breastfeeding and therefore medications should only be initiated after consulting with your OB/GYN. Psychotherapy is also an important treatment modality for postpartum depression and consists of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectal behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy which all focus on recognizing triggers and developing healthy coping skills to overcome negative thoughts and emotions.
Postpartum support groups
Postpartum support groups can be virtual or in person and provide a safe and welcoming environment for all women who are struggling with postpartum depression. Connecting and becoming involved in a community can help new moms feel supported and united in what they are experiencing. Staffed by women’s health experts, this is a great place to share your feelings in a safe, supportive place with other women who understand what you are going through. Ask your doctor about new mother support groups in your town.
Lifestyle changes can also help to reduce some symptoms of postpartum depression. The following strategies may help you manage the increased stress that accompanies new parenthood:
- Getting enough sleep
- Finding time to exercise
- Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of family and friends
- Eating regular, nourishing meals
- Asking others to watch your child so that you can have a much-needed break