Postpartum Depression

More than 50% of women are beset by the "baby blues” soon after giving birth. Most cases improve within a few weeks with no intervention. Symptoms can include crying for no reason, trouble eating or sleeping, and making choices, anger, feeling overwhelmed by simple tasks, and doubts about being able to care for the baby.

Postpartum depression is a much more serious condition than the normal baby blues, affecting as many as 10% of women.  Unlike the baby blues, post-partum depression does not go away quickly. It usually develops within one to three weeks of giving birth, but women remain at risk for up to two years.

With postpartum depression, a mother's hormone imbalance and brain chemistry are severely altered, crippling her ability to care for herself and her baby. Women who have suffered depressive episodes in the past are biologically more susceptible to post-partum depression.

Postpartum depression symptoms

  • Feelings of despondency, doubt, anger, irritability, anxiety, inadequacy, guilt, fatigue, worthlessness, and being overwhelmed that do not go away, and may increase each week

  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions that does not go away

  • Trouble doing tasks at home or on the job, that persist after a few weeks

  • Strong feelings of depression and anger that usually start 1-2 months after childbirth, and do not go away

  • Physical symptoms may include frequent headaches, numbness, dizziness and rapid heartbeat.

  • Intense concern or worry about the baby, or fear of harming the baby

  • You no longer enjoy things that used to bring you pleasure

  • Thoughts of self-harm, harming your baby, or suicide

Postpartum Psychosis

In a small number of cases (less than 1% of new mothers), post partum depression can lead to mental illness called postpartum psychosis, including hallucinations and delusional thinking. This is a rare but serious condition that can lead to the death of both mother and baby. Women at greatest risk are those who have been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or have family members with these illnesses.

Doctors warn that post-partum psychosis should be considered a psychiatric emergency. Anyone experiencing hallucinations and delusional thinking should go to the nearest emergency ward. If you know someone you think has psychotic symptoms, ensure they get immediate medical help.

What causes postpartum depression?

Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease dramatically in the hours after childbirth. Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone alter brain chemistry, especially the mood-altering neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Some women's brain cells are more genetically sensitive to fluctuating hormone levels, which may explain why some new mothers have postpartum depression and others do not.

In some women, thyroid levels also decrease after childbirth, which may also cause depression-like symptoms.

Treatment for postpartum depression

Remember that the postpartum blues are normal. The best thing you can do is get plenty of rest and do things you enjoy. As much as possible, eliminate negative stress. Ask for help from your family and friends.

If the symptoms of depression have not improved several weeks after giving birth OR if the symptoms are severe and you are unable to care for yourself or your baby, you may have postpartum depression. Make an appointment with your doctor. Only a medical doctor can diagnose postpartum depression.

Most cases of post-partum depression are easily alleviated with a short-term course of anti-depressant medication.

Estrogen therapy is also showing promise for alleviating postpartum depression. One double blind placebo controlled study found that 68% of women using an estrogen patch experienced reduced symptoms of depression, compared to 20 percent of those using a placebo.1

As with all types of depression, nutrition, exercise and stress management are important for optimum mental health.

Read more about Lifestyle Healing Strategies
Read about other types of Hormonal Depression
Read about Clinical Depression
Read about non-clinical Depression

1. Claudio de Novaes Soares et al., “Efficacy of Estradiol for the Treatment of Depressive Disorders, Archives of General Psychiatry 58, no. 6 (2001): 529-34



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