Having a baby is a lot. With all the new feels and changes, new moms often deal with short-term sadness called the “baby blues.”
But what if it’s something more? Depressive feelings that last longer than a few weeks after your bébé’s born could be postpartum depression (PPD).
Even with more awareness around the postpartum depression, it’s estimated that about half of PPD cases go undiagnosed.
If you think you’re dealing with postpartum depression, seeking help doesn’t mean you’re not up to the job of motherhood. Here’s how to spot symptoms of postpartum depression, and how to get back on track.
The exact cause of PPD isn’t totally understood, but researchers have a few theories:
- The risk for all types of depression may be genetic.
- Hormones shift dramatically after childbirth, which could trigger PPD.
- Low levels of thyroid hormone may play a role.
You may have PPD even if you’ve never had depression before. But if you’ve had PPD before, it’s more likely to happen with future pregnancies.
Additional risk factors of PPD include:
- personal or family history of depression or other mental illness
- past physical or sexual abuse
- pregnancy complications
- smoking, drinking, or using drugs
- breastfeeding difficulty
- newborn health complications
- history of premenstrual syndrome
- lack of social support
PPD is also more likely to happen if it’s a first-time pregnancy and in those who are very young or past the “prime” baby-making age.
How will you (or your doctor) know if you have PPD? If you’ve had five or more of the following symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, you may be diagnosed with PPD:
- Are you having severe mood swings?
- Do you feel depressed most of the day every day?
- Do you feel shame or guilt? Or like you’re a failure?
- Do you often feel panicked or scared?
Other signs of PPD include:
- You don’t have interest in things you used to enjoy.
- You feel tired all the time.
- You have trouble sleeping or are sleeping too much.
- You’re eating a lot more or a lot less than you usually do.
- You’re gaining or losing weight (in a way that’s not expected around pregnancy and childbirth).
- You have trouble concentrating or making decisions.
- You aren’t bonding with your baby.
- You have thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby.
- You have thoughts of suicide.
If you see signs of PPD in yourself or someone you care about, it’s important get help ASAP.
Many people get the “baby blues” in the first few days after they give birth. It’s a mild and common reaction to adjusting to a big life change, hormone fluctuations, and lack of sleep.
Symptoms of the baby blues include:
- feeling sad
- anxiety or overwhelm
- mood swings
- trouble sleeping
- loss of appetite
Baby blues is definitely not the same as postpartum depression. The biggest difference is the baby blues only lasts up to a few weeks. Mood disruption that lasts longer than 2 weeks could be PPD.
Postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health condition that can lead to violence or dangerous behavior. It’s very rare, with only about 1 to 2 out of 1,000 women who have given birth experience postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis is considered a medical emergency. So, if postpartum psychosis seems like a possibility, contact your doctor and visit the emergency room right away.
Signs to watch for include:
- hallucination (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
- feeling confused, hopeless, upset, or restless
- trouble sleeping
- rapid mood swings
- thoughts of hurting yourself, your baby, or others
Nongestating parents can also experience the sleep loss, schedule upheaval, and stress of welcoming a new family member.
So depression can def affect people during their partner’s pregnancy or in the first year postpartum. A 2017 study found that 13.3 percent of men had depressive symptoms when their partner was in the third trimester of pregnancy.
Rather than crying and sadness, depression in the nonbirthing partner may look like:
Factors that put the nonbirthing partner at higher risk of depression in early parenthood, include:
- inability to bond with the baby
- financial and work stress
- low testosterone (in men)
- lack of social support or a parental role models
- jealousy over mother-child bond
- their partner is depressed
PPD isn’t something you just tough out. Needing treatment is no indication of how strong or motherly you are. PPD is a medical condition, not a character flaw.
If you’ve had a baby within the last year and have been experienced PPD symptoms for 2 weeks or more, it’s time to seek help.
The good news is, if you’ve recently had a baby, you might already be seeing a doctor that can evaluate you for postpartum depression.
Bring up your symptoms with your prenatal care provider, primary care doctor, or your baby’s doctor. A doctor can diagnose PPD by asking you questions about your feelings since giving birth.
From there, treatment options might include:
- counseling like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy
- support groups
- antidepressant medication
- transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy
- a combo of the above treatments
Preventing postpartum depression isn’t simple. But, if you know you’re at risk or have experienced depressive episodes before, you can try to get out in front of it.
Once you discover you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor or therapist about strategies for preventing PPD. If you’re already taking an antidepressant, talk to your prescriber about how to safely continue, change, or stop medication during pregnancy.
Practicing healthy self-care habits throughout pregnancy and during the postpartum period may also be helpful.
Having a baby can be hard on your body, mind, and family. Postpartum depression affects many new parents, and is not a personal failure.
If you’re dealing with PPD, you’ll need professional treatment to feel better and enjoy your growing family. It can also be helpful to reach out to supportive family members, a doctor, or support groups as you recover.