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Breastfeeding
what is postpartum depression

It is natural to feel concerned and overwhelmed with a newborn baby. After all, this tiny human depends on you for everything. With all the worry of being a new parent, it can be tricky to determine if you have postpartum depression. Many women experience hormone fluctuations after birth that cause mood swings and sad feelings. In this article, we answer the question, what is postpartum depression? Then, we provide tips for how to get help if you need it.

Difference Between Postpartum Depression and The “Baby Blues”

As many as 1 in 5 new mothers experience postpartum depression, and it is the most common complication of birth. A higher percentage of women experience the “baby blues,” which is different from postpartum depression. It is essential to differentiate the two and seek treatment when appropriate.

In the first ten days after having a baby, some new moms experience crying jags, mood swings, irritability and emotional outbursts, nervousness, and poor sleep. These feelings are common, with up to 70-80% of moms reporting mood swings. With “baby blues” these feelings improve shortly after birth, usually within two weeks. Experts believe this is due to shifting estrogen and progesterone levels after birth.

The “baby blues” do not usually require any special treatment, and the difference between this and postpartum depression is significant.

healthy pregnancy and beyond

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Simply put, postpartum depression is defined as feelings of sadness and anxiety, sometimes to extremes, that interfere with a mom’s ability to care for her family or herself. Women with postpartum depression may be exhausted, sleeping most of the day, and some women cannot sleep at all. Additional signs may include:

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Headaches, stomach problems, aches, and pains
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Persistent doubt about her ability to care for the baby
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Difficulty enjoying activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Thinking of harming herself or the baby

Causes of Postpartum Depression

The cause of postpartum depression is not known, and a combination of physical and emotional factors may contribute. Most importantly: it does not occur because of something a new mom does or does not do.

There are some factors however, that may contribute to a higher risk of postpartum depression. These factors include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Stress such as domestic violence or dealing with a death of a loved one
  • Medical complications during birth or having a child with medical issues
  • Lack of support
  • A family history of depression or previous experience with bipolar disorder or depression

Women who were substance abusers before pregnancy are at the highest risk for postpartum drug and alcohol abuse. A prior history of substance abuse can contribute to the neglect of the baby and child abuse, and the cycle of substance abuse can continue with the next generation.

It is important to get help right away for postpartum depression leading to alcohol or drug abuse. Although it might be tempting to try to separate postpartum depression from substance abuse, health care professionals recommend concurrent treatment for these disorders.

If left untreated, women can suffer for months or even years, and babies of mothers with postpartum depression are at greater risk for sleeping, eating and behavior problems due to the mother’s inability to properly care for and bond with the baby. It’s important to see your healthcare professional right away to be properly diagnosed if you suspect postpartum depression.

Paternal Postnatal Depression

Men can experience these same symptoms, as can any partner. Sleepless nights, a baby that won’t stop crying and fights with your partner are common with a new baby in the house. Throw visiting parents or in-laws into the mix and feeling excluded by the mother-baby bond and this can lead to excess stress.

Paternal postnatal depression affects many men. By the time the child reaches age 12 more than 20% of fathers have had an episode of depression. When a new mom is experiencing postpartum depression, it’s more likely that the partner is suffering too.

 

How To Get Help For Postpartum Depression

Moms, dads, and partners can experience postpartum depression. Although it is more common after the birth of a baby, this can also occur after the adoption of a child. Anyone experiencing depression with a new child in the house can benefit from the advice included here.

Talk therapy or counseling

By talking one-on-one with a mental health counselor, these therapies can help identify ways to overcome depression.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT approaches the problem by focusing on solutions and modifying dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that prevent successful problem-solving.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT): IPT focuses on strengthening relationships and creating a supportive network for the depressed person. IPT works by identifying negative relationship traits that can be modified and improved.

Medication

Medications can be helpful in treating depression. There are many different types of antidepressants, and they may take up to six weeks to work. It is essential to be patient, as it can take some trial and error to find the right one.

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Nutrition

In addition to the treatment strategies we’ve outlined above, research shows that certain nutrients may help.

Studies indicate that taking the omega-3 DHA during pregnancy may reduce the risk of postpartum depression.  Studies also show that taking an omega-3 supplement rich in EPA during and after pregnancy may lessen some symptoms of depression.

Other studies have shown a link between low vitamin D levels and postpartum depression.  Therefore, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D before, during, and after pregnancy.


Having a new baby in the house is a special time, but it can also be very stressful. See your healthcare professional right away if you are experiencing depression. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to admit that you are struggling. Take advantage of resources that can help you cope.

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