What is Postpartum Depression?

Feeling sad or anxious after baby? It could just be the "baby blues," but 10 to 20 percent of new moms experience postpartum depression. Learn about the symptoms of PPD and how it can be treated.
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After giving birth, many women experience "baby blues" marked by mood swings, feelings of ambivalence toward motherhood, mild depression, and bouts of unexplainable crying. These blues, which last one or two weeks, may result from hormonal changes or feelings of isolation. Lack of sleep certainly plays a role, too.

For as many as 10-20 percents of new mothers, baby blues turns into clinical postpartum depression, or PPD. Read on to learn about postpartum depression symptoms and treatment options.

What is Postpartum Depression?

The baby blues can last from a few days to a few weeks and include symptoms like crying spells, anxiety, inability to sleep, and quick fluctuations in mood. On the other hand, postpartum depression lingers for much longer, and it’s generally more intense. Joel Evans, M.D., coauthor of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook (Gotham), explains that if you experienced depression during your pregnancy or have suffered from PPD after previous pregnancies, you may be at increased risk for postpartum depression.

Amanda, mom to a 5-year-old son and a 2-1/2-year-old daughter, was overwhelmed and unable to settle in after the birth of her daughter. After seeking help, she was able to overcome her postpartum depression. Learn more about her story.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Postpartum depression symptoms are different for everyone and no two mothers experience exactly the same thing. If you recognize any three of the following symptoms, you may have PPD and should consult a physician. You may need counseling, medication, or both. Antidepressant medications are effective in treating symptoms associated with PPD and many are safe for breastfeeding women.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed, including sex

  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

  • Loss of weight and/or appetite, or overeating and weight gain

  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts

  • Restlessness, irritability

  • Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

  • RELATED: Quiz: Could You Be Exhibiting Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum Depression Treatment

Treatment for postpartum depression may consist of antidepressant and/or anti-anxiety medicines, talk therapy, support groups, or other behavioral methods like cognitive behavioral therapy. If you are diagnosed with postpartum depression (or suspect you have it), the following tips may help:  

  • Set realistic goals, and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility—let your family and friends help you.

  • Break large tasks into small ones, set priorities, and do what you can, as you can.

  • Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it's usually better than being alone and secretive.

  • Participate in activities that may make you feel better.

  • Exercise regularly—even if it's just going for a walk. Studies have shown that mild, regular exercise can regulate mood.

  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Remember, people rarely "snap out of" a depression. Feeling better takes time.

If you have been diagnosed with postpartum depression, the next step is to seek treatment. Dr. Judy Greene describes multiple types of postpartum depression treatment and where you can go to find it.

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