What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a serious illness that can occur in the first few months after childbirth. It also can happen after miscarriage and stillbirth.
Postpartum depression can make you feel very sad, hopeless, and worthless. You may have trouble caring for and bonding with your baby.
Postpartum depression is not the “baby blues,” which many women have in the first couple of weeks after childbirth. With the blues, you may have trouble sleeping and feel moody, teary, and overwhelmed. You may have these feelings along with being happy about your baby. But the “baby blues” usually go away within a couple of weeks. The symptoms of postpartum depression can last for months.
In rare cases, a woman may have a severe form of depression called postpartum psychosis. She may act strangely, see or hear things that aren’t there, and be a danger to herself and her baby. This is an emergency, because it can quickly get worse and put her or others in danger.
What causes postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression seems to be brought on by the changes in hormone levels that occur after pregnancy. Any woman can get postpartum depression in the months after childbirth, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
You have a greater chance of getting postpartum depression if:
- You’ve had depression or postpartum depression before.
- You have poor support from your partner, friends, or family.
- You have a sick or colicky baby.
- You have a lot of other stress in your life.
You are more likely to get postpartum psychosis if you or someone in your family has bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression).
What are the symptoms?
A woman who has postpartum depression may:
- Feel very sad, hopeless, and empty. Some women also may feel anxious.
- Lose pleasure in everyday things.
- Not feel hungry and may lose weight. (But some women feel more hungry and gain weight).
- Have trouble sleeping.
- Not be able to concentrate.
These symptoms can occur in the first day or two after the birth. Or they can follow the symptoms of the baby blues after a couple of weeks.
If you think you might have postpartum depression, fill out this postpartum depression checklist (What is a PDF document?) . Take it with you when you see your doctor.
A woman who has postpartum psychosis may feel cut off from her baby. She may see and hear things that aren’t there. Any woman who has postpartum depression can have fleeting thoughts of suicide or of harming her baby. But a woman with postpartum psychosis may feel like she has to act on these thoughts.
How is postpartum depression diagnosed?
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any feelings of baby blues at your first checkup after the baby is born. Your doctor will want to follow up with you to see how you are feeling.
How is it treated?
Postpartum depression is treated with counseling and antidepressant medicines. Women with milder depression may be able to get better with counseling alone. But many women need counseling and medicine. Some antidepressants are thought to be safe for women who breast-feed.
To help yourself get better, make sure you eat well, get some exercise every day, and get as much sleep as possible. Seek support from family and friends if you can.
Try not to feel bad about yourself for having this illness. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. Many women have postpartum depression. It may take time, but you can get better with treatment.