Hormone changes immediately following pregnancy and labor are very common. The brain of a pregnant individual is almost soaked in a cocktail of hormones for nine months, and in a matter of days following birth, hormones that have been surrounding the brain disappear. Sometimes this causes a drastic shift in the mental state of an individual. Approximately 70-80% of women will experience some type of negative emotional shift immediately following their baby’s birth.
Everyone feels sad sometimes, and it’s normal to feel differently after a major life event like giving birth. Even slightly depressive feelings can occur during this time due to fluctuating hormone levels. The difference between hormone changes and postpartum depression is that postpartum depression interferes with the ability to care for the new child that now needs care.
Depression is a mood disorder that affects every person differently. It may not feel the same for everyone and it may not last the same length of time for everyone. Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth and can make it difficult to complete the daily activities required to care for a newborn. After childbirth, hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone quickly drop, leading to chemical changes in the brain that may trigger mood swings. This is normal, but the constant sleep deprivation that most mothers suffer from immediately following the birth of a child may contribute to postpartum depression symptoms.
Postpartum depression carries the same symptoms that general depression does. Feeling hopeless, relentlessly pessimistic, guilty, worthless, and helpless are some signs of both depression and postpartum depression. Having a lingering sad or anxious mood, loss of energy, problems concentrating or making decisions, difficulty falling asleep or sleeping too much, overeating or not eating enough, aches and pains and suicidal thoughts or ideations are also symptoms of depression and postpartum depression. While postpartum depression occurs after having a baby, the feelings are more intense than the nickname “baby blues.” The feelings of worry, sadness and anxiety after having a baby affect every 1 in 9 women, according to the CDC. Sufferers of postpartum depression may cry more often than usual, have more feelings of anger, withdraw from loved ones, and feel overly anxious or worrisome. Women with postpartum depression may also think about hurting themselves or their babies, feel distant from their baby, or doubt their ability to care for their baby. “Baby blues” symptoms usually resolve themselves after a few days, while postpartum depression lasts longer and requires treatment.
Postpartum depression can also affect fathers and family members. According to the CDC, four percent of fathers will experience depression in the year following their child’s birth. Young fathers with a history of depression and those fathers experiencing financial difficulty are most at risk for developing postpartum depression. Low levels of social and family support are also contributing factors. Some types of postpartum depression can be dangerous and are often the types most publicized in the news. Postpartum psychosis causes severe and deadly mood changes that include delusions and hallucinations and may put the mother and newborn in danger.
The first step toward treatment is speaking with your healthcare provider. Only a healthcare provider can diagnose postpartum depression. Most of the time postpartum depression is treated using either counseling, medication or a combination of both. Counseling offers an opportunity to talk face-to-face with a mental health professional (a counselor, therapist, psychologist or social worker) about feelings and stressors. Interpersonal therapy is often used to help people work through problematic times in their lives. Medications like antidepressants can help treat the symptoms of postpartum depression and can alter brain chemicals that regulate mood in the brain. Using medications to treat postpartum depression should be thoroughly discussed with a healthcare provider, as certain types of antidepressants can interfere with breastmilk quality or production.
To determine if you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, determine if postpartum depression symptoms have been ongoing for more than two weeks. If left untreated, postpartum depression can last for months or even years. It may interfere with physical health, the ability to care for a newborn child, and may even affect the newborn’s health.
Postpartum depression is common and treatable and help is available if you ask for it. Almost 80% of postpartum women experience some type of emotional shift after giving birth, and seeking treatment is a smart choice for the health and safety for both mother and child. Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.