Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression, also called postnatal depression, is defined as a mild to severe depression in women following the birth of their child. Although it is typically immediately or within three months of delivery, postpartum depression can occur up to one year following the birth.

Postpartum depression is characterized as part of a spectrum of depression-related disorders. It is not uncommon to experience “baby blues” or mild anxiety, tearfulness and/or irritation shortly after giving birth. This rarely requires treatment because the symptoms abate quite quickly. Postpartum psychosis, involves severe depression, hallucinations and psychotic ideology. In terms of severity, postpartum depression is in the middle of this spectrum – more severe and far more enduring than the “baby blues,” but lacking the frightening and potentially life-threatening features of postpartum psychosis.

What Are The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

Your feelings of sadness are just like any other form of depression. In addition, your postpartum depression may cause agitation, crankiness, a change in appetite, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fatigue, inattentiveness, suicidal thoughts, social isolation and/or disconnectness. You may develop a dislike for your baby or start to think of ways to harm your baby.

How Prevalent Is Postpartum Depression?

postpartumDepressionThe World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that clinical depression is the second most prevalent condition among women ages 15- 44. Clinical depression is second only to HIV/AIDs in this population. Postpartum depression accounts for nearly 20% of women who have had a baby within the last three months. That risk increases to roughly 25% for younger or impoverished mothers. It is important to remember that postpartum depression doesn’t just affect young and/or impoverished women. Older and/or wealthier women can also develop this form of depression. Celebrities that have spoken about their struggles with postpartum depression include: Brooke Shields, Courtney Cox, Lisa Marie Presley and Marie Osmond.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

Once you give birth, you will experience a sudden decrease in your estrogen and progesterone levels. This rapid decrease can wreak havoc on your hormones. It may take your body time to adjust to the changes. Most women’s hormone levels eventually stabilize and their emotional health is restored, but some women’s hormone levels never quite stabilize, which makes them prone to severe mood fluctuations and/or postpartum depression. In addition, your moods may be affected by other changes in your life such as: the stress of having a new baby in the home, a lack of sleep and/or perhaps concerns regarding your ability to care for your new baby. These factors can all contribute to the development of postpartum depression.

Risk factors of postpartum depression include:

  • You are younger than 20, abuses alcohol and/or illegal substances, has little income or lives in substandard housing.
  • If the pregnancy was unplanned or possibly unwanted, the relationship is unstable or you are single and receiving little or no support from family and friends.
  • You experienced depression, a bipolar disorder or severe anxiety before, during or following a previous pregnancy.

What Are The Effects Of Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression can have an adverse effect on your ability to parent. You may become lax or avoidant when caring for your newborn and/or other children. Experts have identified four methods of coping that you may use when parenting:

  • Avoidance: You avoid your baby at all costs. In other words, you neglect to respond to your baby’s cries.
  • Problem-Focused: You actively address issues and develop solutions to the problems.
  • Support-Seeking: You seek support when you need it. This may be emotional, financial and/or physical support.
  • Venting: You constantly blame yourself for everything that happens, regardless of whether you are to blame or not.

If you have postpartum depression, more than likely you constantly avoid coping with issues that concern you. Because you adhere to the avoidance method you create instability in your child’s life. The early months of your child’s life determine how your child will develop (emotionally and physically) in the future. What your child learns during those first precious months of life will determine how he/she copes with issues and interacts with people. Without positive interaction from you and other caregivers in his/her life, your child may not get the much-needed cognitive stimulation that he/she needs to develop normally. When your child does not get what he/she needs to develop, it can cause emotional and/or physical impairments later in life.

***It is important to note that children of depressed mothers are three times more likely to develop emotional problems and ten times more likely to have a dysfunctional relationship with their mothers then children of women who do not suffer from clinical depression.

What Are The Treatments For Postpartum Depression?

Treatment for postpartum depression typically consists of a combination of medication and therapy. Medications can include anti-depressants. However, these may not be advised if you are breastfeeding. Joining a support group, either in person or on the Internet can give you an opportunity to connect with other new mothers who may also be dealing with postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression should be treated as quickly as possible to prevent a progression in symptoms. If you think you may have this condition, you need to be screened for stress and psychological distress during your pregnancy. You should also have your psychological health re-evaluated once you give birth to your baby. It is also important to eat a healthy diet during and following delivery. Nutrition and a strong support system (such as friends or family) can help prevent or ease postpartum depression symptoms.

Where Can I Find Additional Information on Postpartum Depression?

Websites: The Mommies Network is an excellent resource for women with postpartum depression. Membership is free and there are discussion forums, links to local groups, and personal sponsors available. The website is: Another good resource is Café Mom. This website answers frequently asked questions about motherhood, provides chat rooms and offers expert advice for mothers. The website is:

Books: Books that are beneficial for women who have postpartum depression and their friends and family include: Postpartum Depression for Dummies by Shoshana S. Bennett Ph.D. and Mary Jo Codey and Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression by Shoshana S. Bennett, Ph.D. & Pec Indman.


Kaplan, H. I., & Sadoc, B. J. (1996). Concise textbook of clinical psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

O’Hara, M. W. (2009). Postpartum depression: what we know. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65 (12), 1258-1269. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20644

Preston, J. & Johnson, J. (2008). Clinical psychopharmacology made ridiculously simple. Miami, FL: MedMaster, Inc.

Wang, L., Tiejian, W., Anderson, J. L., & Florence, J. E. (2011). Prevalence and risk factors of maternal depression during the first three years of child rearing. Journal of Women’s Health, 20 (5), 711-718.doi:10.1089/jwh.2010.2232

depression during the first three years of child rearing. Journal of Women’s Health, 20 (5), 711-718.doi:10.1089/jwh.2010.2232


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