Postpartum depression

Postpartum Depression – Symptoms and Causes

Postpartum depression is a terrible condition that afflicts many mothers. Learn how it is different from Baby blues, and read about the causes, symptoms and treatments here.

When a baby comes into a person’s life, it triggers a lot of emotions for them as a mother. These include joy, excitement, anxiety, as well as fear. Beside these emotions, the birth of your baby may also lead to very negative feelings – a phenomenon known as baby blues or even postpartum depression. What’s the difference? What are the postpartum depression symptoms? Well, read on.

Baby blues usually afflict new moms and often starts within the first two to three days after delivery, generally lasting for up to 2 -3 weeks. Some moms experience a more long-lasting and severe form of depression; this is an extreme mood disorder that requires treatment and proper care.

Postnatal or postpartum depression is a complex mix of behavioral, emotional, and physical changes associated with having a baby. The diagnosis of depression after childbirth is based not only on the time period between delivery and onset, but also the severity of the depression.

Symptoms of baby blues

Almost every new mother suffers from baby blues. This does not require medication and normally subsides with education and support. However, follow up is essential because around 20% of these mothers are prone to progressing from baby blues to postpartum depression, an adverse consequence which can affect the cognitive growth of the child.

It’s impossible to know the exact reason behind postnatal depression, but several factors such as relationship conflicts, economic conditions, sociocultural factors, and hormonal changes may be associated.

The early identification of baby blues will allow the healthcare practitioner to prevent it from developing into postpartum depression. The symptoms of baby blues are:

  1. Trouble sleeping
  2. Mood swings
  3. Sadness
  4. Anxiety
  5. Irritability
  6. Crying
  7. Feeling overwhelmed
  8. Appetite problems
  9. Reduced concentration

Postpartum depression symptoms

At first, postpartum depression can be mistaken for baby blues. However, if the symptoms and signs last longer, are more intense, and interfere with your ability to take care of yourself, your baby, and handle day-to-day tasks, then it may be postpartum depression. Usually symptoms develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but it may begin earlier or later in some mothers. For example, this could be during pregnancy and up to a year after birth.

(Read about postpartum depression for males here)

Signs of postpartum depression include the following:

  1. Severe mood swings
  2. Withdrawing from friends and family
  3. Eating much more than usual or loss of appetite
  4. Loss of energy or overwhelming fatigue
  5. Reduced pleasure and interest in activities you used to enjoy
  6. Sleeping too much or insomnia (inability to sleep)
  7. Sad feelings that make you think you’re not a good mother
  8. Excessive crying
  9. Feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame or worthlessness
  10. Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death
  11. Continuously thinking of harming your baby
  12. Severe panic attacks or anxiety
  13. Depressed mood
  14. Restlessness
  15. Diminished ability to make decisions, concentrate, or think clearly
  16. Not feeling love for your baby
  17. Hopelessness
  18. Intense anger and irritability


There are a lot of causes for postpartum depression. However, emotional and physical problems play a vital role in triggering depression:

  • Physical issues:

    Soon after the delivery of a child, hormones like progesterone and estrogen drop significantly in the mother’s body; this can result in postpartum depression. Apart from these, your thyroid hormones also decrease significantly, thus leaving you moody, sluggish, and exhausted.
  • Emotional issues: 

    Sleep deprivation makes you incapable of handling even small problems. At times, you feel that you cannot care for your newborn properly. You do not find your baby attractive and keep struggling with your thoughts of losing your identity and control over your life. All these aspects can lead to postnatal depression.

Risk Factors 

There are numerous factors that elevate the risk of postnatal depression and make signs evident. These include:

  • Having a track record of dealing with depression before pregnancy or while pregnant
  • How old you are when you conceive. If you’re too young to handle the pregnancy, the risk of experiencing PPD is high
  • Doubts about bearing a child
  • The number of children; that is, if you have a lot of children to look after, you may automatically become depressed whenever the next pregnancy is conceived
  • Having a medical record of holding premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • No or little social support
  • Having marital conflict
  • Feeling lonely

How to identify Postpartum Depression?

Mostly, depression affects around 10% to 20% of mothers within the first year after giving birth. However, just 50% of women who experience major postpartum depression symptoms are diagnosed with the condition. One of the most useful screening tools used extensively in the medical field to diagnose postpartum depression is The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS).

It is a 10-item questionnaire that helps in assessing the mental condition of a woman. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is available in roughly all languages. If you score ten or greater than ten on this scale, or get an affirmative answer of the questions concerning suicidal thoughts, it suggests that you are suffering from postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression treatment

Both the treatment and the recovery time depends on the severity of the depression and the patient’s individual needs. If, say, your thyroid is underactive or you have an underlying disease, your doctor will pay attention to such a health condition so that the root causes can be catered to. You may be required to see an appropriate specialist to treat your mental and physical problems as a whole.

Natural Treatments and Home Remedies to Manage Postpartum Depression 

Seeking professional help is always the best course of treatment for the management of postpartum depression. But to help make it easier for you and your new baby there are certain things you can incorporate in your treatment plan to help have a speedier recovery.

  • Focus On Making Healthier Lifestyle Choices

    Even something as simple as taking a walk with your baby can be a great addition to your daily routine. If walking is not something you enjoy, you can partake in any other form of physical exercise. Apart from that try to take adequate rest, eat healthy and avoid alcohol.

  • Have Realistic Expectations for Yourself

    You need to understand that things cannot be the same as they were before the new baby. So, do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself to run the perfect household. Do what you can and do not fret about the rest.

  • Carve Out Time For Yourself

    It is important that you make some time for yourself as well. This means that you need to either ask your partner to take care of the baby or arrange for a babysitter to do so. Take this free time to do something that makes you happy. It can be a hobby you enjoy or even just some time with your friends, family or partner.

  • Do Not Isolate Yourself

    When the feelings of postpartum depression do come in, it can get a little scary to figure them out. The important thing to do at this point is to talk to as many people as you can. Reach out to other mothers who have experienced something similar.

  • Ask For Help

    Reach out. If people offer to babysit, take them up on the offer. It can often be tough to detach yourself from your baby but you need to understand that taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of the baby.

Baby Blues

Postpartum blues or baby blues generally fade with time – maybe within one to two weeks. During the early postpartum period you should:

  • Get a lot of rest to relax your mind and body
  • Get help from your social circle, like friends and family
  • Get to know other new mothers
  • Take some time for yourself and do things which you like
  • Stay away from alcohol and other drugs that can trigger mood swings and further worsen your condition

Postpartum depression

The treatment of postnatal depression symptoms begin with psychotherapy (counseling mental health or talk therapy), medication, or using both the options.

  • Psychotherapy: 

    Here you consult with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other professional to discover better tactics for coping with your feelings through therapy. You learn to solve issues, form realistic goals, and tackle any situation with great positivity. At times, relationship or family therapy is also helpful in eliminating signs of postpartum depression.
  • Antidepressants: 

    You may be required to take some antidepressants that are not harmful for breastfeeding moms and have very little side-effects on your baby.

How to Prepare For your Doctor’s Appointment

It is important to be prepared when you make your way to the doctor’s for the treatment and management of your postpartum depression. Chances are that at the end of your appointment, your doctor will refer you to a mental health profession for a better understanding of the problem at hand.

Things You Can Do

  • Make a list of the symptoms you have been experiencing
  • Compile all your medical records including any physical or mental health disorders that you may have gone through
  • List out all the medications that you have been taking including prescriptions, vitamins, herbs, supplements as well as other dosages.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What is going to be my course of treatment?
  • How long do you think it would take for the treatment to take effect?
  • What are possible side effects I should be prepared for?
  • Are there any lifestyle changes that can aid in the treatment ?
  • Is the prescribed medication safe to take while breastfeeding?
  • How often should I come in for a follow-up visit ?
  • Does this mean I’m at an increased risk of other mental health problems?

With proper treatment, in time, postpartum depression symptoms can be improved. If left untreated, the depression can be further aggravated and become chronic depression. Therefore, it is essential that you treat the condition appropriately and effectively; do not stop until you get the desired results.

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