What Is Postpartum Depression?
The majority of women experience some depression, irritability and mood swings in the weeks following childbirth. This condition is commonly referred to as the “baby blues.” The symptoms of baby blues are generally mild, don’t affect a woman’s ability to care for herself or her child and normally resolve on their own within a few weeks. But about 15 percent of new mothers experience more severe symptoms that indicate postpartum depression – a more extreme, longer-lasting mood disorder.
What Are the Signs of Postpartum Depression?
Some of the symptoms of postpartum depression can easily be mistaken for the more mild baby blues. But women suffering from postpartum depression experience more severe issues that can negatively affect their health, their relationships and the well-being of their baby. Typical symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping despite overwhelming fatigue
- Eating too much or too little
- Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Inability to bond with your baby
- Feelings of inadequacy as a mother
- Distancing yourself from family and friends
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Intense feelings of anger or irritability
- Difficulty thinking clearly, remembering details or making decisions
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or fear you might intentionally harm your baby, call 911, a 24-hour crisis hotline (like 1.800.273.8255) or seek other medical assistance immediately.
Who Is at Risk of Postpartum Depression?
Anyone can be affected by postpartum depression, and the hormonal changes and sleep deprivation all women experience after birth are thought to play a role. But certain factors can increase your risk. These include:
- Previous history of depression
- Family history of depression
- Medical complications affecting you or your baby during or after delivery
- Difficulty with breastfeeding
- Lack of emotional support from family and friends
- Problems with alcohol or drug abuse
How Is Postpartum Depression Diagnosed?
When you take your newborn to the pediatrician for the first time and when you go for your own postpartum checkup, you will likely be given postpartum depression screening questionnaires. It is important to answer the questions openly and honestly and to discuss any concerns you have about your mood or mental state with a healthcare provider.
How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?
It is important for your own health and the well-being of your baby to seek treatment for postpartum depression. Left untreated, the condition can make it difficult for you and your child to form an emotional attachment. Not getting treatment can also result in your postpartum depression lasting for months or even years. There are two forms of treatment which can used independently or together:
- Psychological counseling: Talking one-on-one with a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional can help you better understand and cope with your negative thoughts and feelings.
- Medication: Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications can help regulate the brain chemicals responsible for mood alterations and anxiety.
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