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Within the first three to four days after childbirth, 50-75% of people will experience shifts in mood. This can be experienced as frequent, prolonged bouts of crying, sadness and anxiety—without the ability to identify a reason.
This experience has been dismissively dubbed the “baby blues”. Serious mental health events, however, are often dismissed as “feeling blue”, and while common, they are anything but just feeling blue.
Postpartum sadness and anxiety can impede your ability to care for yourself and your baby, interfere with your day-to-day ability to function and find enjoyment in this new experience, as well as in more serious cases lead to feelings of death, suicide and infanticide. During this time, you’re trying to manage fluctuating hormones, overwhelming life changes, lack of sleep and proper self-care, and the beginning of the physical process of recovering from childbirth—on top of keeping a new human alive!
You can help mitigate these feelings by getting as much rest as possible, accepting help from family and friends, connecting with other new parents, taking time for self-care, and avoiding alcohol.
While these changes to your mental health will normally begin in the first week and subside without requiring any formal treatment, there are many instances when this becomes clinical postpartum depression.
What is Postpartum Depression?Postpartum depression, on the other hand, usually starts within the first month (although it can start any time within the first year) and can last weeks or months. It is clinically the same as any other type of depression, with the onset occurring with childbirth. It’s much more serious than the “baby blues” though and can develop into chronic depressive episodes and require formal treatment.
In more extreme cases, postpartum psychosis is experienced. This is a sudden onset of psychotic symptoms following childbirth. It is much rarer than postpartum depression, affecting 1-2 people per 1000 births. It is treated in the same way that general psychosis is.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are not uncommon and can be the result of this overwhelming period around childbirth. Maternal mental health, like any mental health disorder, greatly benefits from increased awareness.
The Importance of Postpartum Depression AwarenessBeing open about mental health topics is important for several reasons:
- Stigma reduction: There is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding mental illness, and many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their experiences.
- Improved understanding: By talking openly about mental health, we can help others to better understand these issues and how they can affect people's lives.
- Access to support: By being open about mental health, we can help others to realize that they are not alone and encourage them to seek out the support they need.
- Better treatment outcomes: Research has shown that people who are open about their mental health and seek treatment have better outcomes than those who try to hide their struggles or go without treatment.
Symptoms of Postpartum DepressionSymptoms of postpartum depression might include:
- feelings of sadness, depression or severe mood shifts
- frequent and prolonged crying
- fears that you’re not a good parent
- intense irritability and anger
- hopelessness, worthlessness, shame, or guilt
- severe anxiety and panic attacks
- withdrawing from friends and family
- lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
- difficulty bonding with the newborn
- overwhelming tiredness; difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- changes in appetite
- difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly, or making decisions
- thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or infanticide
Causes of Postpartum DepressionThere are several factors that can contribute to maternal depression. One of the biggest challenges is lack of sleep. Newborns have small stomachs and need to be fed frequently, which can lead to sleep deprivation for new parents.
- Adjusting to new responsibilities is also a common challenge of having a newborn.
- Physical recovery is an additional challenge. A person's body needs plenty of time to heal after giving birth.
- The hormonal changes that occur after giving birth can lead to mood swings and feelings of sadness or anxiety.
- Caring for a newborn can be time-consuming, which can make it difficult to find time for self-care or other activities.
- Lack of support can be a challenge for some new parents. It can be difficult to navigate the demands of caring for a newborn without a strong support system.
Common TreatmentPostpartum depression can be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both. It is important to seek help if you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression, as it can have serious consequences for both you and your baby if left untreated.
The most common treatments for postpartum depression are medication, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and therapies like CBT and IPT. Speak with a healthcare professional to determine the right treatment for you.
Other treatments that may be helpful for postpartum depression include support from friends and family, self-care practices (such as getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in physical activity), and support groups. It is important to work with a healthcare provider that is sensitive and supportive of your needs.
It is also important to remember that postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. This is a new phase of your life—that takes time to adjust to. It is a common and treatable medical condition that can affect any woman after giving birth.
Increasing awareness around this condition is a step in the process of ensuring more women receive the necessary health care.
- “20123 Postpartum Depression.” CAMH, camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/postpartum-depression.
- Cleveland Clinic. “Postpartum Depression: Types, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, 1 Jan. 2018, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9312-postpartum-depression.
- Mayo Clinic. “Postpartum Depression - Diagnosis and Treatment - Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.org, 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20376623.
- Mayo Clinic. “Postpartum Depression - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic, 1 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617.
- Mughal, Saba, et al. “Postpartum Depression.” PubMed, StatPearls Publishing, 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519070/.