What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)
While having a baby can be one of the most rewarding and happy experiences in a woman's life, it is also a time of enormous change, both from a psychological and a physiological perspective. During pregnancy, the amount of the two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, increase greatly. However, in the first 24 hours after childbirth, the amount of these hormones rapidly decreases and keeps dropping to the levels before pregnancy. Researchers think that these changes in hormones may lead to depression. In addition, thyroid levels may also drop sharply after giving birth. Low thyroid levels can cause symptoms that feel like depression, such as mood swings, fatigue, agitation, insomnia, and anxiety.
Other factors that can contribute to PPD include:
- Loss of sleep or fatigue
- Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility for a new baby
- Stress from changes in home and work routines
- Feelings of loss (identity, control, etc.)
- Lack of time
Postpartum depression (PPD) is defined as a condition affecting a range of physical and emotional changes that many mothers can have after having a baby.
As follows, there are three types of PPD:
- The "baby blues" happen to many women in the days immediately after childbirth. A new mother can have sudden mood swings, such as feeling very happy and then very sad. She may cry for no reason and can feel impatient, irritable, restless, anxious, and lonely. The "baby blues" may last only a few hours or as long as one to two weeks after delivery. The "baby blues" do not always require treatment. Often, talking with other mothers or joining a new mother support group helps.
- General Postpartum Depression (PPD) can happen a few days to months after childbirth. PPD can happen after the birth of any child, not just the first child. The symptoms can be similar in type to the "baby blues" - sadness, despair, anxiety, irritability - but are much more severe in scope. PPD can often be debilitating, keeping a woman from completing everyday tasks. When a mother's ability to function is affected, it is vital that she receive treatment from her health care provider as soon as possible. If a woman does not get treatment for PPD, symptoms may become worse and can last for as long as a year. While PPD is a serious condition, it can be treated with medication and counseling.
- Postpartum psychosis is a very serious mental illness that can affect new mothers. The onset of this condition can happen quickly, often within the first three months after childbirth. Women can lose touch with reality and may have auditory hallucinations (such as hearing voices) and delusions (distortion of things as they are). Visual hallucinations are possible but much less common. Other symptoms include insomnia, agitation, anger and abnormal behaviors. Women who have the symptoms of Postpartum psychosis need treatment immediately and almost always require medication. Sometimes women with this condition are hospitalized because of the risk of doing harm to themselves or someone else.
Who Is At Risk For Getting Postpartum Depression (PPD)
PPD affects women of all ages, economic status, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Any woman who is pregnant, had a baby within the past few months, miscarried, or recently weaned a child from breastfeeding can develop PPD. The number of children a woman has does not change her chances of getting PPD. New mothers and women with more than one child have equal chances of getting PPD. Research indicates that women who have had problems with depression are at more risk for PPD than women who have not had a history of depression.
Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression (PPD)
The signs of possible PPD include:
- Restlessness or irritability
- Feelings of sadness; crying a lot
- Lack of energy
- Headaches, chest pains, palpitations, numbness or hyperventilation
- Insomnia or fatigue
- Lack of appetite or weight loss
- Overeating or weight gain
- Difficulty remembering, making decisions or staying focused
- Excessive worry about the baby
- Lack of interest in the baby
- Feeling worthless and guilty
- Being afraid of hurting the baby or oneself
- No interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
Treatment And Care For Postpartum Depression (PPD)
It is important to know that PPD is treatable. The type of treatment is dependent on the severity of the condition. PPD can be treated with antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. Women with PPD are often advised to attend a support group with other women who are going through the same thing.
It should be noted that if a woman is breastfeeding and suffering from PPD, she needs to talk with her health care provider about taking antidepressants. Some of these drugs can affect breast milk and should not be used.
Other ways a woman with PPD can take care of herself include:
- Be sure to get enough rest. Take a nap when the baby naps.
- Take the pressure off. Do what is possible but do not try to do everything. Ask for help with chores and feedings.
- Open up and talk with family and friends about feelings.
- Limit time alone. Leave the house, even if just for an errand.
- Find time for husband or partner.
- Talk to a health care professional about medical treatment.
- Join a support group and talk with other mothers about their experiences.
[Information for this article was made available through the National Women's Health Information Center.]
Back to the Top
For further information, support, and help on Postpartum Depression, you may try the following:
Articles on Specific Topics
Source: "Care Note - Postpartum Depression" - Department of Psychiatry, Penn Behavioral Health, University of Pennsylvania Health System