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Postpartum Depression: What It Is and How to Treat It

You can't "snap out of" postpartum depression. This is a life-threatening illness that must be treated accordingly.
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
February 3, 2022
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5 min
Minute Read

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.

What does postpartum depression feel like?

You will know you have postpartum depression when you feel a sense of hopelessness, like nothing good is around the corner. You might feel like you don’t want your baby, or you might have difficulty feeling connected to your child.

Depression can also cause your entire body to hurt. You might not be able to sleep, or you’ll want to sleep too much. You might not want to eat, or you will want to eat too much. You won’t feel like yourself. And you aren’t because depression is like something has taken over your body that you have very little, or no, control of.

What are the signs of postpartum depression?

Often, a spouse or partner will notice the depression in their loved one before their loved one does. This is because when you have postpartum depression, it’s difficult to see through it. You’re simply in it.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include:

·      irritability

·      change in eating patterns

·      melancholy

·      loss of affection

·      a general change in demeanor or characteristics

·      insomnia

·      oversleeping

·      difficulty bonding with your baby

What should you do if you or your loved one is suffering from postpartum depression?

Seek medical help immediately. Ask your doctor or pediatrician for recommendations for a therapist, internist, or OBGYN. If you are prescribed medication, take it. Because postpartum depression is a hormonal and chemical imbalance, medication will help. This along with counseling is the best treatment for postpartum depression.

If you’re worried about taking medication while breastfeeding, talk to your OBGYN. It’s more important for you to be healthy and present for your child than for you to breastfeed.

I hope this information has been helpful. If you or a loved one is suffering from postpartum depression, seek help. This illness is treatable. And though it may feel like it today, it is not hopeless.

I’ll be sharing more about postpartum depression soon in my online parenting community, Parenting Great Kids. If you haven’t already joined, don’t wait, click here to join today! I talk about any and every parenting topic, from postpartum depression to discipline to how to talk to your kids about sex. It’s a great place to interact with other parents of all ages and stages. Join us today so we can keep the conversation about this and other important topics going!

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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