Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects some women shortly after childbirth. It is not uncommon for women to experience temporary mood disorders after giving birth. If it goes on for more than 2 weeks, it is called postpartum depression.
The cause of postpartum depression is unclear. The cause may be related to sudden hormonal changes during and after delivery. Untreated thyroid conditions may also be associated with postpartum depression.
Risk Factors ^
Factors that may increase your chance of postpartum depression:
- Previous episodes of depression or postpartum depression
- History of anxiety disorder
- Family members with depression
- Lack of a support system and/or strained relationship with your partner
- Difficulty with breastfeeding
Hormonal changes in the brain may contribute to postpartum depression.
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Symptoms usually occur within 6 months after childbirth, though they may begin during the pregnancy and may last from a few weeks to a few months. It most often starts within the first few weeks after childbirth. Symptoms may range from mild depression to severe psychosis.
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life
- Change in weight or appetite
- Rapid mood swings
- Poor concentration, memory loss, difficulty making decisions
- Sleeping too much
- Feelings of irritability, anxiety, or panic
- Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
- Obsessive thoughts, especially unreasonable, repetitive fears about your child’s health and welfare
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Thoughts of death or suicide
More serious symptoms associated with postpartum depression that may require immediate medical attention include:
- Lack of interest in your infant
- Fear of hurting or killing yourself or your child
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Loss of contact with reality
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done. Your doctor may ask you to have blood tests to see if an undiagnosed physical problem, like a thyroid condition, could be contributing to your symptoms. You may be referred to a mental health professional.
Treatment for postpartum depression may include counseling, medication, or both.
Medications may include:
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Antipsychotics for severe cases
Talk with your doctor about potential medication side effects and how they might affect your child if you are breastfeeding.
You may be referred to a therapist for counseling. Counseling may be individual or with a group. Support groups for mothers with postpartum depression can help you see that others are struggling with and managing postpartum depression.
Since postpartum depression is aggravated by stress, life stressors should be kept to a minimum after delivery. The following may help prevent postpartum depression:
- Childbirth education classes
- Realistic expectations about the postpartum experience
- Get treatment for any mood disorders
- Get help with childcare and household chores
- Rest when you can
- Be aware of how you feel. Some women feel better when the number of visitors is limited, others feel better when they have other people around
- Get support to allow yourself some enjoyable personal time, such as going for a walk
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Office on Women's Health
Canadian Psychological Association
Women's Health Matters
ACOG Committee Opinion No. 650: physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126(6):e135-e142.
Leopold KA, Zoschnick LB. Postpartum depression. Women's Primary Health Grand Rounds at the University of Michigan (series). August 1997.
Postpartum depression. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq091.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130312T1333495763. Updated December 2013. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Postpartum depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 2, 2016. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD Last Updated: 6/6/2016