Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects some women shortly after childbirth. It is not uncommon for women to experience temporary mood disorders after giving birth. If it goes on for more than two week, it is called postpartum depression.

Causes

The cause of postpartum depression is unclear. The cause may be related to sudden hormonal changes during and after delivery. Untreated thyroid conditions may also be associated with postpartum depression.

Risk Factors

Factors that can increase your chance of developing postpartum depression include:

  • Previous episode of depression or postpartum depression
  • History of anxiety disorder
  • Family member with depression
  • Lack of support system and/or strained relationship with partner
  • Difficulty with breastfeeding

Central Nervous System

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Hormonal changes in the brain may contribute to postpartum depression.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually occur within six months after childbirth, though they may begin during the pregnancy and may last from a few weeks to a few months. It most often started within the first few weeks after childbirth. Symptoms may range from mild depression to severe psychosis.

Symptoms may include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life
  • Change in weight or appetite
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Poor concentration, memory loss, difficulty making decisions
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping too much
  • Feelings of irritability, anxiety, or panic
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
  • Obsessive thoughts, especially unreasonable, repetitive fears about your child’s health and welfare
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Thoughts or death or suicide

More serious symptoms associated with postpartum depression that may require immediate medical attention include:

  • Lack of interest in your infant
  • Fear of hurting or killing oneself or one's child
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Loss of contact with reality

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done. Your doctor may ask you to have blood tests to see if an undiagnosed physical problem, like a thyroid condition, could be contributing to your symptoms. You may be referred to a mental health professional.

Treatment

Treatment for postpartum depression may include counseling, medication, or both.

Medications

Medication may include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Anti-psychotic drugs for severe cases

Talk with your doctor about potential medication side effects and how they might affect your child if you are breastfeeding.

Counseling

You may be referred to a therapist for counseling. Counseling may be individual or with a group. Support groups for mothers with postpartum depression can help you see that others are struggling with and managing postpartum depression.

Prevention

Since postpartum depression is aggravated by stress, life stressors should be kept to a minimum after delivery. The following may help prevent postpartum depression:

Before Delivery:

  • Childbirth education classes
  • Realistic expectations about the postpartum experience

After Delivery:

  • Get treatment for any mood disorders
  • Help with childcare and household chores
  • Rest when you can
  • Some women feel better when the number of visitors is limited; others feel better when they have other people around
  • Support to allow yourself some enjoyable personal time, such as going for a walk