Stages of Life > Pregnancy and Postpartum Life > Pregnancy and Postpartum Life - Overview

The Facts About Postpartum Depression

New moms face many challenges, especially if the 'baby blues' turn into something more serious.

A mother and her baby face each other smiling in bed.

There are few life changes as seismic as becoming a mother. The time frame immediately after birth, commonly known as the postpartum period, can be both magical and surprisingly difficult for some new mothers.

While many people expect the postpartum period to be filled with joy and wonder, it can also come with low moods and, in some cases, more serious mental health concerns such as depression. Depression is hard for anyone, but for new mothers, it can also lead to feelings of confusion, guilt and isolation.

Whether you're preparing to give birth or you've recently had a child, this guide can give you the facts about what really happens during the postpartum period.

How do I know if I have postpartum depression?

Postpartum, or postnatal, depression is a type of depression that occurs after giving birth. While it doesn't happen to every new mother, it is a fairly common concern for young parents.

Postpartum depression is sometimes confused with the "baby blues." Many new mothers feel low immediately after giving birth due to hormonal decreases of estrogen and progesterone. They may feel teary, sad, anxious and sad, however, these blues are short term and usually go away after a week or two.

While the baby blues and postpartum depression usually begin in the days immediately after birth, for some mothers, the symptoms don't arise for months. When the baby blues continue to affect new parents for more than two weeks, this can be a sign of postpartum depression. Common symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Constant sadness. A consistent feeling of low mood.
  • Loss of interest. No enjoyment of hobbies, friends and activities.
  • Low energy. Difficulty getting out of bed, making meals or simply moving around the house.
  • Insomnia. Difficulty sleeping and constant tiredness.
  • Self-isolation. Keeping friends and family members at bay.
  • "Brain fog." Experiencing confusion and memory loss.
  • Lack of caregiving. Difficulty caring for yourself and the baby, and finding it hard to develop an emotional connection with the child.
  • Harmful thoughts. Thinking about harming yourself or the baby.

How common is postpartum depression?

Baby blues are far more common than postpartum depression. As a 2014 study of postpartum mental disorders suggested, postpartum blues occur in around 50 percent of all mothers.

Postpartum depression, in which symptoms last for more than two weeks, is far less common, occurring in 6.5 percent to 20 percent of new mothers, according to StatPearls, a healthcare education resource.

However, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology journal suggested that incidences of postpartum depression are increasing nationally.

Postpartum depression treatment

Postpartum depression is usually treated with a combination of therapy, support and depression medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A 2014 review of treatment options for postpartum depression noted that individual psychotherapy was one of the most effective choices. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) displayed moderate effectiveness.

While antidepressant medication can be effective, some breastfeeding women choose psychotherapy treatment options instead out of concerns that their breast milk may be affected by antidepressants.

What factors increase my risk of postpartum depression?

Research indicates some mothers are more prone to developing postpartum depression than others.

According to StatPearls medical literature, the risk factors for young mothers include:

  • A history of psychological concerns, such as depression, anxiety, a higher polygenic risk score (PRS) or prenatal depression
  • Pregnancy complications, such as C-section, preterm birth or umbilical cord prolapse
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Lack of social support network
  • Domestic violence and abuse
  • Poor lifestyle habits, such as unhealthy diet, low physical activity or poor sleep patterns
  • Vitamin B6 deficiency

What should I do if I have symptoms of postpartum depression?

If you are experiencing the common symptoms of postpartum depression and these symptoms have lasted for more than two weeks, it's important to speak to your doctor about your experiences.

Your doctor can help you reach a diagnosis and come up with a suitable treatment plan.

What is postpartum psychosis?

Postpartum psychosis differs from postpartum depression, although they share a few common symptoms and behaviors. Postpartum psychosis can be far more serious than postpartum depression, but it is also far less common, occurring in just 1 in 500 mothers.

Postpartum psychosis, unlike postpartum depression, can lead to erratic behavior and thoughts.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis might include:

  • Hallucinations. Seeing, hearing or imagining things.
  • Delusions. Developing paranoid ideas about people or situations that aren't true.
  • Manic and strange behavior. Acting out of character or dangerously and unpredictably.
  • Depression. This symptom can look similar to postpartum depression.
  • Dramatic mood swings. Very high highs and low lows with no apparent cause.
  • Unfounded suspicions. Becoming severely anxious and suspicious of people around you.

Postpartum psychosis can lead to dangerous behaviors and may mean the mother and new baby are unsafe. If you are concerned that you or someone you know might be experiencing postpartum psychosis, it's important to seek urgent medical help.

After receiving a diagnosis, postpartum psychosis can be treated with antipsychotics and other medications.

The bottom line

Postpartum depression is a fairly common condition that affects new mothers after they give birth. Roughly half of new mothers experience some form of the "baby blues," and up to 20 percent of new mothers develop long-term postnatal depression.

Postpartum depression is different from postpartum psychosis, which is a far more serious condition that can be dangerous for both mother and baby.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include a low mood, low energy, poor sleep, a loss of enjoyment in everyday life and, in some cases, dangerous thoughts. So it's important to seek help for suspected cases of postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression treatment usually consists of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Both have been found to be effective.

Even though postpartum depression can feel isolating and lead to feelings of guilt, it's important to remember that it's a common condition and isn't a sign of bad parenting. The sooner you get a diagnosis and a treatment plan, the sooner you can, hopefully, feel a little more like your old self.