Most new mothers experience what we call the post-baby blues after giving birth–mood swings, crying, anxiety. But some mothers experience more than just mood swings.
Postpartum depression (PPD) became an official diagnosis in the 1980s. Since then, we’ve learned an incredible amount about this common and very serious medical condition.
Ten to 20% of new mothers report having postpartum depression, though the actual percentage is probably higher. Despite the rise in awareness of this diagnosis in recent years, as a pediatrician, I’ve found that a lot of parents still don’t understand postpartum depression, don’t know the warning signs, and don’t know how to get help. Postpartum depression is treatable, but it needs to be more widely understood so new mothers can get the help they need without feeling the shame they often do.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that occurs after childbirth. Many women with postpartum depression feel a sense of hopelessness, extreme fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and have difficulty bonding with their baby.
Postpartum depression is a life-threatening illness. It is a serious medical condition that must be addressed as early as possible. It is not something a woman can “snap out of” on her own. It requires medical treatment because it is a medical condition.
What causes postpartum depression?
Hormonal and chemical changes after birth cause postpartum depression. Estrogen, progesterone, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurohormones or chemicals that keep the brain healthy when in balance can get out of balance after delivering a baby. This is what causes depression. On top of that, a woman is experiencing a huge life transition while getting little sleep—this all contributes to depressive and anxious feelings.