Women often experience feelings of anxiety and depression in the postpartum period. The first weeks after childbirth are often hectic. Women are adjusting to motherhood, learning how to breastfeed and not getting enough sleep.
The postpartum period is also a turbulent time physically. Women are recovering from the physical strain of delivering a baby. Hormone levels change drastically during pregnancy. After pregnancy, hormones return to normal levels, which may also affect a woman’s mood.
The Baby Blues
An estimated 40 to 85 percent of women experience the “baby blues” in the weeks following pregnancy. The baby blues are characterized by irritability, anxiety, and sudden mood swings, often due to the physical and emotional changes outlined above.
Upsetting though the baby blues may be, most women find that they diminish within ten days to two weeks. Baby blues that last longer may be a sign of postpartum depression, a much more serious problem.
Differentiating between the baby blues and true postpartum depression (PPD) immediately after giving birth can be difficult. The main difference between PPD and the baby blues is duration.
While the baby blues are a temporary emotional disruption in the postpartum period, postpartum depression symptoms persist for much longer. Postpartum depression often lasts up to six months after birth. About 25 percent of women who experience postpartum depression but don’t receive treatment display symptoms of PPD up to a year after childbirth.
PPD can affect women regardless of age, ethnicity or socio-economic group. Oddly enough, actually being pregnant does not seem to be a prerequisite for postpartum depression. Women who adopt children and are never pregnant can experience symptoms very similar to postpartum depression.
Some women have a higher risk of postpartum depression after pregnancy than others. Women with a history of depression or anxiety are more likely to have their baby blues evolve into PPD. A history of sexual or physical abuse also increases the risk of PPD. Postpartum depression is also more likely in women who have lost children prior to the pregnancy.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Symptoms of postpartum depression are essentially the same as for other forms of clinical depression. PPD symptoms include the following:
- changes in appetite
- difficulty thinking
- loss of concentration
- unexplained weight loss/gain.
In addition, women suffering from PPD may experience feelings of inadequacy as mothers. PPD symptoms may also include fantasies about escaping responsibilities. Some women also fear that they will harm their babies while suffering from postpartum depression.
Treatment for PPD
PPD treatment is the same as for other forms of clinical depression. Antidepressants, psychological therapy and support groups can all provide relief from postpartum depression. Women with PPD should seek help in caring for their newborns, and families should be aware of the symptoms so that they can step in and obtain help for the new mother.