Postpartum depression is a psychological disorder that affects new mothers as they cope with the transition from pregnancy to motherhood. Postpartum depression (PPD) is also known as postnatal depression. In rare cases, a woman may suffer from postpartum psychosis, a very serious condition that causes her to lose touch with reality.
Postpartum Mood Disorder vs. “Baby Blues”
Having a baby changes many aspects of a woman’s life, both physically and emotionally. A woman’s body changes drastically. Her personal history and feelings about parenting can bring up very powerful emotions. The family may be financially and emotionally strained. Social pressures may be mounting.
With all these changes occurring, many women experience mood swings and bouts of sadness shortly after the baby’s birth. These feelings are completely normal. However, if you find yourself struggling with symptoms of depression that last for more than two or three weeks, you may have postpartum depression.
Feeding, diapering and taking care of a new baby can be overwhelming. Feeling anxious and inexplicable crying are normal behaviors for the mother of a new baby. With feedings every few hours, the mother of a new baby is likely to feel tired and have trouble sleeping. She may also have trouble concentrating, feel irritable, anxious or overwhelmed. Sudden weight gain and weight loss are both normal, as are fluctuations in appetite.
These are symptoms of the “baby blues.” According to most research, these symptoms may last several weeks, often peaking during the first week following delivery. They usually go away by themselves.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
Several telling characteristics of postpartum depression differentiate it from the baby blues. Postpartum depression symptoms can begin at any time in the first year of the baby’s life, and the condition lasts longer than two or three weeks.
Common postpartum depression symptoms include:
- Decreased libido
- Feelings of guilt, shame or inadequacy
- Inability to bond with the baby
- Irritability and anger
- Loss of appetite
- Severe mood swings
- Withdrawal from family and friends.
Postpartum Mood Disorder Treatment
A woman with postpartum depression may believe that there is something wrong with her abilities as a mother. She may start to distance herself from the baby, or even consider harming herself or the child. For these reasons, mothers experiencing postpartum mood disorder should seek treatment as soon as possible.
Postpartum depression is usually treated with antidepressants, counseling, hormonal therapy or a combination of all three. Hormonal therapy typically involves estrogen replacement, since the rapid drop in estrogen after childbirth is believed to contribute to postpartum depression symptoms. Many antidepressants are safe for new mothers to use, but be sure to discuss any potential risks with your doctor, especially if you are breastfeeding.
Postpartum mood disorder usually disappears after a few months with effective treatment.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Postpartum depression: Symptoms. Retrieved April 20, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-depression/ds00546/dsection=symptoms.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Postpartum depression: Treatments and drugs. Retrieved April 20, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-depression/ds00546/dsection=treatments-and-drugs.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Staff. (2009). Depression during and after pregnancy. Retrieved April 20, 2010, from the Women’s Health website: http://www.womenshealth.gov/FAQ/depression-pregnancy.cfm.