Written by Matt Potter,
You’ve waited forty long weeks and the day is finally here––you’re having a baby! When that day comes, you may be feeling a mix of excitement and fear, and maybe a little anxiety. However, another feeling may come along and might be something that you’re not expecting at all––depression. The “baby blues” is a milder and more common form of depression that can affect new mothers. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a more severe and debilitating condition affecting one in seven women. Cutesy nicknames only serve to abate the severity and seriousness of postpartum depression.
There are short- and long-term symptoms of PPD, and these symptoms may cause new mothers to feel isolated, guilty, or ashamed. What is supposed to feel like a joyous time can actually cause feelings of apathy, anxiety, and sadness. PPD is one of the most significant causes of maternal morbidity and mortality. Risks of untreated PPD include suicide, feeling unhappy in your marriage, and even problems in your baby’s development. If you suspect that you might be suffering from PPD, do not suffer in silence or dismiss your struggles. Let’s explore how to recognize the symptoms of PPD and tips for seeking treatment.
The symptoms and causes of postpartum depression
Over 50% of PPD cases go unrecognized. We want to work towards lowering that statistic by recognizing more cases using validated screening tools. PPD is a severe mental health issue and can manifest as feeling disconnected from your baby, feelings of intense sadness, or feeling incompetent as a mother. Other symptoms can include:
- Feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, guilty or angry
- Crying frequently
- Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby, not wanting to be around your baby or being worried you will hurt your baby
- Unexplained physical ailments, such as headaches, nausea, and stomachaches
- Being unable to find pleasure in any activities or withdrawing from social situations
- Lacking energy and having difficulty focusing
- Experiencing difficulties with sleeping, including being unable to fall asleep
The specific cause of PPD is unknown, and any new mother can experience the symptoms. Those who are at risk of developing PPD include women who have previously experienced depression or who have a family history of depression.
Research has also shown that rapid changes in sex, stress, or thyroid hormones during and after delivery may contribute as well. Other factors that may predispose you to PPD include:
- History of premenstrual mood disorders
- History of sexual abuse
- High-risk pregnancy or traumatic birth
- Biological factors, such as being a young mother or having diabetes
- Social factors, such as low income, being a single mother, or experiencing domestic abuse
- Lifestyle factors, such as poor sleep habits
Treatment for postpartum depression
There is hope. PPD is treatable, and with proper treatment, you’ll be back to feeling like yourself again. PPD can be treated both with medication and without.
Non-pharmacologic treatments for PPD include lifestyle changes, such as getting adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and plenty of exercise. Having a healthy social support system and getting your partner involved in your recovery is another treatment option. If you have the opportunity, ask friends, family, or your partner to take on additional responsibilities. This provides you time to exercise, time away from the baby, and time to get the sleep you need to recharge. Finally, getting connected with a therapist that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to have great success in treating PPD without the use of medication.
If indicated, a doctor will prescribe medication to treat the symptoms of PPD. When you first seek treatment, it is essential to get your symptoms under control. This can take anywhere from six to twelve weeks and is known as the acute phase of treatment. Once your symptoms have normalized, your doctor will continue your medication therapy for four to nine months. This period is critical to ensuring lasting effects and is called the continuation phase of treatment. If you’ve had three prior episodes of depression or have a history of depression in your past, you may need to continue treatment for longer. Once your doctor is confident that your symptoms have waned, they will discontinue the medication by slowly weaning you off.
What should I do if I suspect I’m experiencing postpartum depression?
If you think you might be suffering from PPD, there is a clinically validated screening tool called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) you can take online to find out. This questionnaire is easy to take on your own and may bring clarity to your symptoms. This screening tool is a good exercise to start a conversation about PPD. It may be beneficial for all new moms to take (even in the third trimester of pregnancy before giving birth). A score higher than ten indicates possible PPD. If you score a ten or higher, we suggest making an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options.
If you know someone experiencing PPD, provide support whenever you can. Offer to take the baby for a few hours or set up a child-free get-together. Social support is vital for new moms suffering from PPD and can provide much-needed relief.
One in seven women will develop postpartum depression. If you suspect that you may be suffering from PPD, it is crucial to recognize the symptoms and seek help. While PPD can be treated with medication alone, the best treatments are a combination of medication, therapy, and an unwavering social support system. To find out more information about our PPD treatment options, get connected with one of our doctors, and start feeling better today.