The birth of a baby can bring a range of emotions, from joy to anxiety. Many new moms experience postpartum “baby blues,” characterized by mood swings, anxiety, and crying spells, lasting up to two weeks after childbirth. However, some new moms develop a more severe and long-lasting form of depression called postpartum depression, which may begin during pregnancy and continue after childbirth.
Postpartum depression is not a character flaw but a complication of giving birth. Prompt treatment can help manage symptoms and facilitate bonding with the baby.
Postpartum depression symptoms can vary in intensity and include:
New fathers can also experience postpartum depression, exhibiting symptoms similar to those in mothers.
If you experience any symptoms of baby blues or postpartum depression, call your healthcare provider promptly. Seek immediate help if symptoms include thoughts of harming yourself or the baby.
The causes of postpartum depression may include genetics, physical changes, and emotional issues:
Risk factors for postpartum depression include a history of depression or bipolar disorder, family history of mood disorders, stressful events, health problems in the baby, relationship issues, weak support system, financial problems, and unplanned pregnancy.
Untreated postpartum depression can affect mother-child bonding, family relationships, and child development. It may lead to ongoing depressive disorder and increase the risk of future depression episodes.
If you have a history of depression, inform your healthcare provider when planning a pregnancy. Screening and early treatment during pregnancy and after childbirth can help manage postpartum depression. Most antidepressants are safe to take while breastfeeding.
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Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your feelings, thoughts, and mental health to determine if you have postpartum baby blues or a more severe form of depression. It’s common, so don’t be embarrassed to share your symptoms and work with your provider to create a treatment plan.
An evaluation may include a depression screening and other tests to rule out other causes for your symptoms.
Treatment and recovery time vary depending on the severity of depression and individual needs. Postpartum depression can be treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, or both.
The baby blues usually fade on their own within a few days to 1 to 2 weeks. In the meantime, you can:
Treatment for postpartum depression may include:
Brexanolone is a drug approved for postpartum depression, but it requires a stay in a healthcare facility for monitoring.
Research continues on an oral medicine with fewer side effects for postpartum depression.
Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment, usually in the hospital. Treatment may include medications and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for severe cases.
A hospital stay during treatment can challenge breastfeeding, but support for lactation can be arranged.
In addition to professional treatment, you can do the following:
Postpartum depression is a common medical condition that needs treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider and consider joining support groups for new moms or those with postpartum depression.
Before your appointment, make a list of symptoms, medical issues, medications, and questions to ask your provider. Don’t hesitate to seek help and ask for support.
Your provider may ask about your symptoms, ability to care for the baby, sleep, energy level, appetite, anxiety levels, support system, major stressors, and previous medical or mental health conditions.