Bringing a new human into the world is truly one of life’s miracles, but for many, what should be a time filled with joy and happiness is instead fraught with the symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD).
Not to be confused with the “baby blues,” which typically lift within hours or days of giving birth, PPD is a more serious mental health condition. This article will explore the signs and symptoms of the condition, the different kinds of PPD, and its causes and risk factors.
What is postpartum depression?
PPD is a form of depression that women can experience within a year after giving birth. It’s a serious mental health condition that can last for weeks or months, or develop into chronic depression. The signs and symptoms of PPD are more intense than the baby blues, and they can last much longer.
It’s been estimated that ten to 20 per cent of new mothers experience some form of PPD within the first year after giving birth, or one in seven. In many cases, PPD is simply a complication of giving birth and can be treated through psychotherapy, increased social support, medication, and other modalities.
It’s important to note that PPD disproportionately affects different ethnicities, impacting BIPOC communities more commonly. A 2021 systematic review of PPD prevalence in Translational Psychiatry found that developed countries or higher-income areas had significantly lower rates of PPD, while geographic regions such as Southern Africa, Southern Asia and South America had the highest rates.
Another study indicated that countries in Asia might have significantly higher rates of PPD — up to 65 per cent among new moms. What’s more, PPD doesn’t only affect women, as ten per cent of new dads may also experience the condition.
Types of postpartum depression
PPD can be used as an umbrella term for a number of other mental health conditions that fall under the same category. For example, some subsets of PPD could include:
- Postpartum anxiety
- Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Postpartum panic disorder
- Postpartum psychosis
These subsets of PPD occur more rarely in new mothers, but they can all be extremely distressing for the entire family if left untreated. Postpartum psychosis is the rarest form of PPD and the most serious because it can result in hallucinations, poor judgment and delusional thoughts.
When does postpartum depression happen?
PPD can develop anytime within the first year of giving birth, but it most commonly begins within the first few days or weeks postpartum. Although PPD is different from the baby blues, which affect 70 to 80 percent of new moms, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two.
Signs and symptoms
PPD can manifest in a variety of different symptoms that are typical of a regular depressive episode a woman may experience during any time of her life. The only difference between a depressive episode and PPD is that the latter occurs after giving birth, while a depressive episode can happen anytime.
Some of the most common symptoms of PPD to look out for in the weeks following the birth of your baby include:
- Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
- Depressed mood or depression with anxiety
- Excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Sleep disturbance and fatigue
- Diminished concentration or inability to think clearly (worsened by sleep deprivation)
- Changes in weight or appetite, which may involve gaining or losing weight
If you feel like you’re unable to cope with your symptoms or they’re interfering with your ability to care for your baby, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you can.
Causes and risk factors
Will PPD strike at random, or are there certain risk factors that may make you more susceptible to experiencing the condition post-birth? The short answer is yes, both scenarios can be true.
PPD can affect any new mom, but multiple factors can increase your risk of developing it, such as:
- A history of depression, either in yourself or within your family
- Bipolar disorder
- Stressful life events
- Giving birth to multiple babies at once (i.e., twins or triplets)
- Financial problems
- An unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
Aside from these risk factors, PPD is typically caused by the dramatic hormonal changes in a woman’s body after giving birth, such as a drop in estrogen. Other emotional issues that arise from the massive life change that is giving birth, such as a changing body image, feelings of overwhelm, or a loss of control, may also lead to PPD.
Diagnosis and treatment
PPD can be terrifying, painful and isolating. But you’re never alone. It’s important to seek support and expert advice if you feel like you might be experiencing PPD.
A doctor can help to diagnose your condition and recommend treatment options like:
- Lifestyle changes
If you have one or more of the symptoms of PPD that last longer than two weeks, get in touch with your doctor or registered practitioner who can guide you towards healing. The bottom line: PPD is a major life challenge for many women, but you’re never alone. There are treatments available that can help you move past PPD and get your life back.