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Postpartum Depression

Overview

Many new moms feel happy one minute and sad the next. If you feel better after a week or so, you probably just had the "baby blues." If it takes you longer to feel better, you may have postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression can make you feel restless, anxious, fatigued and worthless. Some new moms worry they will hurt themselves or their babies. Unlike the "baby blues," postpartum depression does not go away quickly. Very rarely, new moms develop something even more serious. They may stop eating, have trouble sleeping and become frantic or paranoid. Women with this condition usually need to be hospitalized.

Researchers think that changes in your hormone levels during and after pregnancy may lead to postpartum depression. If you think you have it, tell your health care provider. Medicine and talk therapy can help you get well.

Understanding Postpartum Depression: Common but Treatable

Postpartum depression affects 10-15% of women any time from a month to a year after childbirth. Women with postpartum depression may feel restless, anxious, sad or depressed. They may have feelings of guilt, decreased energy and motivation, and a sense of worthlessness. They may also have sleep difficulties and undergo unexplained weight loss or gain. Some mothers may worry about hurting themselves or their baby. In extremely rare cases—less than 1% of new mothers—women may develop something called postpartum psychosis. It usually occurs within the first few weeks after delivery. Symptoms may include refusing to eat, frantic energy, sleep disturbance, paranoia and irrational thoughts. Women with postpartum psychosis usually need to be hospitalized.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes postpartum depression, but think that the dramatic shifts in hormone levels during pregnancy and immediately afterward may result in chemical changes in the brain leading to the condition. Childbirth is also a major life change that can create ongoing stress and contribute to depression. The new mom’s responsibility for the baby, the household and her work duties upon returning after maternity leave may affect her risk of getting postpartum depression.

The good news is that, like diabetes or heart disease, postpartum depression is an illness that can be successfully treated with medicine and therapy. Women treated with antidepressant medicines and talk therapy usually show marked improvement. Depending on the type of medication they’re using, they may be able to continue breast feeding.

Researchers are making progress in understanding how changing hormone levels and other factors affect the brain after childbirth. They hope to develop better medications for treating postpartum depression by targeting the chemical pathways they’re uncovering.

If you suspect that someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, it’s important to show understanding and support during this stressful time to help the new mom avoid the stigma, shame and isolation often associated with postpartum depression.

For more information:

The Center for Postpartum Adjustment (www.postpartumsupport.com)

Depression during and After Pregnancy(National Women's Health Information Center). Also available in Spanish

Postpartum Depression and the "Baby Blues"(American Academy of Family Physicians). Also available in Spanish