Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a type of clinical depression that affects women, and with less frequency men, after the birth of a child. It seems to be more likely to affect first-time parents, though the occurrence of PPD can happen with the addition of any child or after a miscarriage. Some adoptive parents of newborns have also been affected by postpartum depression. PPD symptoms often appear a couple of weeks after the arrival of the baby, but they may appear at any point within the first year. Postpartum depression often lasts anywhere from a few months to a year after its onset.
The main symptoms of postpartum depression include sadness or hopelessness, guilt, exhaustion, feelings of overwhelm, inadequacy, and/or emptiness, trouble eating or sleeping, the loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and a short emotional fuse. People with PPD may also experience social withdrawal and a lower sex drive than normal. Postpartum depression can also impact the parent-child relationship, leading to feelings of detachment or negativity toward the baby.
If you (or someone you love) are experiencing delusions, hallucinations, or any other thought, speech, or behavior disturbances in addition to any of the symptoms above, you may be suffering from postpartum psychosis. Seek medical attention immediately, as postpartum psychosis must be treated and will not pass on its own.
While not much is known about the causes of postpartum depression, research has shed some light on the risk factors. Risk factors for postpartum depression include a psychologically or physiologically traumatic experience with the birth, a history of depression including depression during the pregnancy, stress and/or anxiety, concerns about childcare, low self esteem, and even cigarette smoking.
The best form of treatment for postpartum depression is early detection and intervention. The earlier it is addressed, the more easily treatment options will work and the more quickly they will be effective. Early forms of intervention can include home visits, counseling and therapy, and peer-to-peer support, whether in person or over the phone. Being aware of the risk factors before the birth of the child has a significantly positive impact on catching and addressing PPD early, or even preventing it in the first place by providing adequate support before problems even arise. Researchers are also looking into the role that nutrition plays in PPD, including the importance of omega-3 fatty acids as well as the role of vitamin depletion. Maintaining a healthful, well-balanced diet during and after pregnancy can support PPD prevention and treatment efforts.
Postpartum depression can be treated. In addition to maintaining a reasonable sleep schedule and a healthy diet supported by prenatal vitamins, PPD treatment is most effective when the risk factors are known. If risk factors are known, a big part of treatment will be aimed at mitigating those risk factors. Increased involvement from the spouse, help with childcare duties, and social support to listen to and validate the suffering parent’s concerns can all help alleviate postpartum depression. This type of organic support is often very effective, in and of itself.
That said, professional intervention is also an important part of treating postpartum depression. Being evaluated by a doctor will determine whether the PPD symptoms are caused by any other physiological problems. The doctor can also advise the best course of treatment, whether any form of counseling or psychotherapy is necessary or a more at-home, social-oriented support plan would suffice.
Medication is another treatment option for postpartum depression that should be discussed with the doctor, depending on the severity of PPD symptoms and the patient’s preference. Some medications may not be safe for nursing women, so be sure to discuss that concern with the doctor if it is relevant. Studies have shown that medication and psychotherapy are both effective treatment options but that neither one makes the other more effective, so there may not be any benefit to pursuing both treatments simultaneously.
If you feel you are suffering from postpartum depression, it is important that you listen to your intuition. If those around you are not willing to listen to your concerns or take them seriously, continue seeking advice. If you have discussed your concerns with a medical professional and you feel they have been dismissed, seek a second opinion.