Postpartum depression is a type of mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. It is estimated that postpartum depression occurs in 10-15% of new mothers, and it can occur anytime during the first year postpartum. Postpartum depression can have a significant impact on the mother’s quality of life, as well as her ability to care for her child. In this blog post, we will discuss what postpartum depression is, who gets postpartum depression, if it’s genetic, why it occurs, and how postpartum depression is treated.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Carrying a baby to term and giving birth can be a highly emotional experience for both the woman and her partner. However, some new mothers are met with a somewhat surprising emotional disorder after giving birth that one might not expect amid the joy and excitement: depression. This emotional time in a new mother’s life can be made complicated by the presence of postpartum depression, but if treated properly, a mother will be able to work towards creating a bond with the baby while managing symptoms.
Who Gets Postpartum Depression?
Sometimes referred to as PPD, postpartum depression begins in new mothers within four weeks of giving birth to their new baby. It is considered a serious complication of childbirth that, if left untreated, can lead to devastating results for both mother and child.
It’s important to note that after a baby is born, the mother is not the only one who may experience mood shifts and the associated “baby blues”—postpartum depression can affect men as well as they rearrange their schedule around catering to the baby’s needs. Typically, as many as one in four fathers will experience postpartum depression after their spouse gives birth—generally between 3-6 months after delivery. This is sometimes referred to as paternal postpartum depression.
Is Postpartum Depression Genetic?
While postpartum depression does affect up to 15% of the population of new parents, there are certain genetic predictors of PPD that may make an individual more likely to experience the mood disorder. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are two genes that, if chemically altered during pregnancy, will likely determine whether or not the mother is likely to develop PPD. This type of chemical genetic alteration can be detected in the mother’s blood at any point during the pregnancy, and may help to diagnose the condition early and provide swift treatment to better manage symptoms and get the family on the right track.
What Are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
While many new parents will experience the “baby blues,” not all experience full-blown postpartum depression. The symptoms for baby blues include:
· Sadness, anxiety, and irritability
· Mood swings
· Crying spells
· Reduced concentration and trouble sleeping
· Poor appetite
· And feeling overwhelmed
However, things become a little more serious when PPD develops. Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
· Difficulty creating a bond or connection with the baby
· Sleep problems (either too much or too little)
· Depressed mood or intense mood swings
· Uncontrollable crying spells
· Social withdrawal
· Appetite problems
· Anger problems and irritability
· Extreme fatigue
· Reduced interest or pleasure in things you formerly enjoyed
· Hopelessness or fears of inadequacy
· Concentration problems and difficulty making decisions
· Anxiety or panic attacks
- Recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or harming yourself or the baby
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
In some cases, PPD can develop into postpartum psychosis. While this is rare, symptoms typically begin to present within the first week after the baby is born and are much more severe than symptoms of PPD. Postpartum psychosis can include:
· Obsessive thinking about the baby
· Delusions or hallucinations
· Problems with sleep
· Disorientation or confusion
· Excessive agitation
· Attempts to harm the baby or yourself
Why Postpartum Depression Occurs
While certain people are more genetically predisposed to experience PPD, there are certain other risk factors than can make a new parent more susceptible to developing the mood disorder. Increased risk factors include:
· Relationship conflict between the parents
· Not much of a social support network
· Family history with PPD, depression, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
· Pregnancy complications and health concerns
· Single parenting or young parents (under 20)
· Giving birth to a baby with special needs
As to what causes postpartum depression, some speculate that the rapid dip in hormones after giving birth causes chemical changes in the body that may make some more likely to develop PPD. During pregnancy, hormone levels of progesterone and estrogen are extremely high but may drop precipitously after birth. This idea has not conclusively been linked to PPD, however, as continued research is needed.
Will Postpartum Depression Go Away?
With proper treatment and support, new parents experiencing postpartum depression are expected to recover and manage their symptoms effectively until they have a handle on PPD. Of course, there are a few outliers who struggle with PPD for years after childbirth—but most are able to overcome their diagnosis and find meaningful connection with their baby.
How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?
The length of a new parent’s experience with PPD depends on the severity of their symptoms, any genetic predispositions to the mood disorder, and their responsiveness to treatment. Most experience postpartum depression starting at around 3 months after delivery—and their symptoms can go on for many more months or even years, depending on the acuteness of the case. After about one year after giving birth to a baby and being diagnosed with PPD, about 50% of women who were receiving treatment still found themselves experiencing symptoms of the mood disorder.
How Is Postpartum Depression Treated?
Fortunately for new parents experiencing PPD, there are ways to manage the symptoms that can lead to overcoming the diagnosis and living a happy, healthy life with your baby. Treatment for PPD generally includes antidepressant medication and psychotherapy treatment, which may include family or relationship therapy, CBT, or talk therapy.
One thing to consider if you are breastfeeding is how an antidepressant medication may affect your baby. It’s important to talk through the risks associated with this with your doctor so you can determine if the benefits outweigh the potential negative consequences.
For those with postpartum psychosis, medications may include mood stabilizers or antipsychotics and even electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in cases where typical antidepressants aren’t effective. ECT sends minute electrical currents to the brain to create a controlled, brief seizure, causing changes in brain chemistry and relieving symptoms of depression and psychosis.
Postpartum Depression Treatment at Delray Beach Psychiatry
With postpartum depression, perhaps the most crucial thing to remember is that you are not alone. While the mood disorder itself may have you feeling moody, out of sorts, and like you want to isolate yourself, it’s important to find people you can lean on during this transition period so you can better care for yourself and for your baby. PPD is nothing to be ashamed about, whether you are a mother or a father postpartum—and the sooner you seek help for your symptoms, the better able you will be to manage them.
Are you a new parent struggling with disorientation, fatigue, or feelings of sadness, fear, or inadequacy? Reach out to the professionals at Delray Beach Psychiatry today and begin working towards better caring for yourself and for your baby.