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Postpartum depression: Not just the baby blues


The birth of a child is typically a joyful event. In the days or months afterward, however, the happiness can fade. One or both parents may later develop depression. A mild form, known as “baby blues,” can start within the first few days after delivery and last for up to a few weeks. The signs may include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.1 

Long-lasting depression that starts before delivery or within the year after childbirth and affects a person’s ability to function is known as postpartum depression.This disorder is often associated with women. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), up to six percent of moms will experience a major depressive episode during pregnancy or in the year following delivery. Studies have also shown, however, that nearly ten percent of dads may develop paternal postnatal depression.3 An average of one in ten men and women experience postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression Causes and Signs

The exact cause of postpartum depression is unknown.4 Beyond genetics, research suggests that major changes in hormone levels can affect mood and lead to the onset of symptoms. Evidence has also linked the disorder to lower testosterone levels in men, but it’s not yet understood why. Also, studies have shown that the father is more likely to feel depressed when the mother has postpartum depression.

Given the biological differences between males and females, their signs of postpartum depression can differ. Generally speaking, for both genders, signs may include:1

  • A depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Crying often
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • An inability to sleep (insomnia) or oversleeping
  • Overwhelming fatigue or lack of energy
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Insecurity over parenting skills
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • A reduced ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If not treated, postpartum depression may last for several months or more and can lead to chronic depressive disorder. 

More rarely, in about one in 1,000 deliveries, postpartum psychosis can occur.4 It can develop from within the first week to up to three months after childbirth. The severe symptoms can include:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Obsessive thoughts about the baby
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Excessive energy and agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Attempts at self-harm or injuring the baby

Because of the increased risk of harm with postpartum psychosis, it requires treatment immediately.

Postpartum Depression Risk Factors and Treatment

The chances that a parent will experience postpartum depression rise with a prior history of the condition or other mood disorders. Some potential risk factors are:

  • Experiencing stressful events, such as pregnancy complications, an illness, or a job loss
  • Increased fatigue from caring for the newborn and/or other family members
  • Having a baby with health problems or other special needs
  • Multiple births (e.g. twins, triplets)
  • Difficulty breast-feeding
  • Problems in a relationship with a significant other
  • Lack of social or emotional support, including help with childcare
  • Financial problems
  • An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
  • Stress about parenthood

Treatment may include a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants. Call your doctor if your symptoms last longer than a few weeks, get worse, you have difficulty completing tasks, or have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can find relief.

If you suffer from postpartum depression, you may feel shame about seeking treatment. Regardless of the cause, remember that it’s not your fault and has nothing to do with your parenting abilities. To learn more or get help, contact us today. We also offer tele-mental health services. For more immediate assistance, call our 24-hour Crisis Hotline: (518) 483-3261 or (518) 891-5535.