What Causes Postpartum Depression?
For many women, pregnancy and childbirth are amazing and life-changing experiences. Your body and mind experience many changes during pregnancy and the days and weeks following childbirth. For some, these changes can lead to depression. Often, postpartum depression symptoms resolve within a few days after birth. However, some women experience pervasive and painful symptoms that last for weeks, months, or more. For these women, their depression symptoms may suggest postpartum depression, a severe but treatable mental health concern that can develop in the weeks following childbirth.
What is Depression?
The emotions that accompany depression are more than a temporary case of sadness or “the blues.” Treatment providers also refer to depression as clinical depression or major depressive disorder. All types of depression are characterized by overwhelming feelings of sadness, emptiness, and irritability that inhibit your ability to function and carry out your day-to-day tasks. Without treatment to address your depression, these symptoms can become so debilitating that they lead to a loss of happiness in vital areas of your life.
The diagnostic criteria for depression state that depression symptoms are a minimum of two weeks. It is also necessary for the symptoms that accompany depressive episodes to differ from your previous level of functioning. In other words, your symptoms must lead to a clinically significant change in mood and ability. There are several types of depression, with some diagnoses being more common than others.
Understanding Postpartum Depression
The word postpartum means after childbirth making it easy to establish when postpartum depression occurs. It is not uncommon for most women to experience a case of what doctors refer to as “the baby blues” shorter after having a child. In general, this occurs within a few days of giving birth and resolves without the need for mental health intervention within three to five days. However, for some women, this is not the case. If the symptoms accompanying the baby blues, such as hopelessness, sadness, or emptiness, persist for longer than two weeks, it may indicate postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a serious mental health condition that must be taken seriously. When a new mom experiences symptoms of postpartum depression, it affects her behavior, her brain, and her overall physical health and well-being. When postpartum depression symptoms remain untreated, it can dramatically interfere with your day-to-day life. But, and perhaps even more concerning, is the way postpartum depression can interfere with the mother-baby bond. Some women who experience severe postpartum depression experience a disconnect from their child (as if they are not their baby’s mother), or they may not love and care for their baby in the way a newborn infant needs.
What Causes Post-Partum Depression
Postpartum depression is not uncommon. Some statistics suggest one in nine new mothers will experience postpartum depression after having a baby. There are several potential causes and risk factors for postpartum depression; many are connected to dramatic changes in hormone levels that accompany pregnancy and childbirth. During pregnancy, the hormones progesterone and estrogen are at the highest levels they will reach in your body.
Within twenty-four hours after giving birth, these hormone levels drop dramatically and quickly, back to pre-pregnancy levels. Some researchers suggest the sudden change in these hormone levels may lead to depression. Similarly, levels of thyroid hormones may also decrease significantly after childbirth. The thyroid is responsible for specific body functions, such as regulating how your body stores and uses energy from food. When levels of thyroid hormones are low, it can lead to chronic fatigue and depression.
In addition to hormonal changes that may lead to postpartum depression, common emotional challenges that accompany being a new mom may also contribute to the condition’s development. Examples include feeling overwhelmed with a new infant, doubting one’s ability to be a good parent, stress from routine changes, unrealistic parenting expectations, feeling less attractive and tired after giving birth, or losing sleep from having an infant at home.
It is important to remember that many of these emotions are common during the first few days of motherhood. Giving birth and having a newborn at home are dramatic changes in your daily routine. However, postpartum depression symptoms are not an expected part of motherhood, and it is important to seek help to learn more about managing and overcoming postpartum depression.
Some women may be at an increased risk of developing postpartum depression. Women who have personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder, experienced depression during pregnancy, had a difficult pregnancy or birth, experience financial or relationship problems, have a substance use disorder, have difficulty with breastfeeding, had an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy or lack the support of family and loved ones. Most specialists who provide pregnancy care ask questions regarding your current pregnancy, previous pregnancies, and history with mental health and substance abuse disorders to help screen for depression risk factors to ensure early access to treatment and support.
Postpartum Depression Signs & Symptoms
Certain body and hormone changes resulting from a healthy pregnancy can lead to symptoms that mimic depression. For some, these symptoms may evolve into the “baby blues” or postpartum depression. Again, the most significant difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression is symptom duration. While the baby blues will resolve within the first week or so after giving birth, postpartum depression symptoms will persist for two weeks or more. If you or a loved one experience any of the following concerns that do not resolve independently, it is crucial to contact your midwife, doctor, or nurse to discuss your symptoms.
Typical symptoms experienced by someone with postpartum depression include crying often, thinking of hurting yourself or your baby, restlessness, moodiness, lack of energy and motivation, inability to focus or make decisions, problems with memory, lack of interest in the baby, sleeping too often or too little, feeling like a bad mom, loss of interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed, headaches, stomach upset, body aches and pains and withdrawing from friends and loved ones.
Many women who experience postpartum depression do not share their challenges with friends or loved ones because they feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt about experiencing depression during a time that should be “happy.” It is crucial to remember that depression can happen to any woman both during and after pregnancy. Experiencing postpartum depression does not suggest you are a “bad mom.” Postpartum depression is highly treatable, and with help and support, your symptoms can resolve.
What is Postpartum Psychosis?
Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental health condition that requires urgent medical intervention. Although rare, occurring in about 4 out of every 1,000 births, postpartum psychosis can lead to potentially dangerous symptoms. Women with bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder are at a greater risk of developing postpartum psychosis. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis may include rapidly changing mood swings (mood changes that occur within minutes), trying to hurt yourself or your baby, paranoia, reckless or dangerous behaviors, restlessness, hallucinations (visual and auditory), agitation, and feelings of debilitating confusion.
Treatment for Postpartum Depression at The Meadowglade
The most common and most effective treatments for postpartum depression include therapy and medications. As a part of therapy sessions at The Meadowglade, you will talk to your therapy provider about your depression symptoms. Therapy aims to help you understand your depression and how its symptoms impact your daily life and your relationship with your baby and loved ones. It will also help you develop and practice strategies (coping tools) you can use to change how depression affects your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
In addition to therapy, your provider may also recommend medications to help reduce the intensity of depression symptoms. The most common medications used as part of a postpartum depression treatment plan are antidepressants. Antidepressant medications can help you manage the severity of depression symptoms so you can focus on overcoming depression. Although some antidepressants can be taken while breastfeeding, it is essential to talk to all medical providers to ensure there are no risks of negative medication interactions.
Typically, medications and therapy are used simultaneously as part of a comprehensive treatment program. Using medications to treat depression may reduce the influence depression symptoms have on your emotional and physical health. Focusing on healing rather than the adverse effects of depression symptoms can help you progress further down the path to recovery from postpartum depression.
When left untreated, postpartum depression can affect both you and your infant. Some studies suggest postpartum depression may lead to challenges for your baby throughout childhood. Examples may include behavioral problems, growth problems, speech and language delays, social challenges, and a weak mother-child bond. It is essential to seek help to manage your depression to reduce the ongoing harm untreated depression can cause. Postpartum depression can affect your ability to parent and care for your baby.
Lack of energy, inability to focus, and moodiness are all symptoms of postpartum depression that can inhibit your ability to focus on the care you and your baby need. Additionally, women who experience postpartum depression and do not seek treatment are at a greater risk for self-harm or suicide.
Postpartum depression is not rare. However, many women choose not to disclose their symptoms or challenges with depression because they fear how others may react. Although common, postpartum depression can be dangerous for the mother and her baby. If you or a loved one experiences pervasive depression symptoms that last for two weeks or more after having your baby, it is crucial to seek help for your symptoms. Learning more about postpartum depression symptoms and how to safely cope with triggering situations or circumstances that may worsen your depression is a crucial step towards healing. Contact a member of our caring and compassionate admissions team today to learn more about getting help for postpartum depression at The Meadowglade.