The causes of postpartum depression are unclear, but are thought to be at least partly due to rapid changes in a womanÃ•s hormone levels after giving birth. Social stressors, a history of previous depression, and the demands of childcare may also contribute to postpartum depression risk.
Hormonal Causes of Postpartum Depression
The most commonly suggested cause of postpartum depression is due to hormonal changes. Changes to a womanÃ•s hormone levels, particularly levels of estrogen and progesterone, may cause depression symptoms.
Estrogen and progesterone levels increase dramatically during pregnancy. After childbirth, these hormone levels drop to pre-pregnancy levels within 24 hours. This sudden drop in hormonal levels may trigger postpartum depression.
Not all cases of postpartum depression occur immediately after childbirth, however. While hormonal changes explain some postpartum depression cases, hormones may not be the only cause of postpartum depression.
Mental Illness and Postpartum Depression Causes
A history of mental illness is one of the most significant postpartum depression risk factors. A personal history of depression (or postpartum depression), as well as a family history of depression or other mental illness, all increase the risk of postpartum depression.
Women with a history of postpartum depression or depression during pregnancy have a higher than normal risk of postpartum depression in subsequent pregnancies. Women in this risk group are 50 to 62 percent more likely to experience postpartum depression than other women, according to the Medscape Psychiatry and Mental Health website. A personal history of major depression increases the risk of postpartum depression by approximately 30 percent, according to Medscape.
Other emotional factors that are considered postpartum risk factors include:
- Doubts about parenting ability
- Feeling overwhelmed by caring for new baby
- Lack of emotional/childcare support
- Marital or financial difficulties
- Negative emotions about pregnancy
- Perceived loss of pre-child identity
- Substance abuse
- Unrealistic expectations of being a “perfect mother.”
Postpartum Risk Factors
The weeks following childbirth are often stressful and tumultuous. Women who donÃ•t receive support caring for newborns are more at risk of postpartum depression than those who do. Other postnatal risk factors for depression include:
- Body image issues after childbirth
- Fatigue after delivery
- Lack of sleep/disrupted sleep
- Stress due to lifestyle changes.
A difficult pregnancy or premature birth also increases the risk of depression during or after pregnancy.
It is important to note that the presence of postpartum depression risk factors does not automatically mean a woman will experience depression. The causes of postpartum depression are a complex mix of hormonal, social and biological mechanisms. A mix of risk factors that causes postpartum depression in one woman may have no negative effect on another new mother.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing postpartum depression symptoms, talk to a doctor. Postpartum depression can be treated with therapy, as well as antidepressants.
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2008). Postpartum depression and the baby blues. Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the Family Doctor website: familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/women/pregnancy/ppd/general379.html#ArticleParsysMiddleColumn0005.
Kennedy, R.; Suttenfield, K. (2001). Postpartum depression: Risk factors. Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the Medscape Today website: www.medscape.com/viewarticle/408688_5.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Postpartum depression. Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic website: www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-depression/DS00546.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Staff. (2009). Depression during and after pregnancy. Retrieved May 11, 2010, from the WomenÃ•s Health website: womenshealth.gov/faq/depression-pregnancy.cfm.