While postpartum depression (PPD) could strike anyone, there are some factors that increase your risk. They include:
- History of mental illness: Women who have previously had clinical depression are seven times more likely to develop postpartum depression. Keep in mind that you may not have necessarily been aware of, or treated for, past episodes of depression. It's important to look at your life carefully -- your adolescence, your young adulthood, previous postpartum experiences -- and assess whether you have had any significant episodes of anxiety or depression that have hindered your ability to function.
- Severe PMS: Because postpartum depression seems to be triggered in part by hormonal changes that occur after childbirth (and possibly after weaning), many experts believe that previous hormonal sensitivity should raise a red flag. This includes women who have had a history of severe PMS or who experienced a negative mood change while taking birth control pills.
- A perfectionist personality: Women who are highly driven or who are not likely to admit when they need help may not adapt as successfully to the demands of new motherhood because their expectations are unrealistic. A partner who doesn't participate in parenting or emotionally support the mom can leave her feeling overwhelmed.
- Difficulties during pregnancy: Significant upheavals while expecting -- moving to a new home, a death or illness in the family, marital stress -- can make a woman more vulnerable to PPD. A growing body of evidence also shows that in many cases women begin to present symptoms of depression while they are pregnant. Many of these individuals continue to be depressed after they give birth.
If you are at risk, share as much information as possible with your partner (or a close friend). Help him learn the symptoms of PPD, and ask him to be on the lookout. It's also wise to reach out to a therapist while you're still pregnant. Then if you do become ill and need help, you won't have to waste time looking for treatment.