Understanding Postpartum Depression

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mood disorder that affects women after childbirth. Postpartum depression creates feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression and exhaustion that can greatly inhibit their ability to care for their newborn child.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Postpartum depression symptoms range for each affected person but they generally include a combination of mood swings, anger and irritability, fatigue, excessive crying, inability to bond with your baby and anxiety, worry and fear. For most, these feelings and symptoms develop within the first few weeks after childbirth and can last up to six months. In some cases, symptoms may develop in the months before childbirth.

Learn the Common Symptoms of PPD

Postpartum Depression Signs

If you suspect that you or someone you love has postpartum depression, watch for signs such as withdrawal from friends and family, loss of appetite, feeling lonely, guilty and trapped and generally lacking motivation. Women may feel a lack of concentration and an inability to enjoy themselves and their lives.

Discover the Warning Signs of PPD

Postpartum Depression Causes & Risk Factors

There is no one particular cause of postpartum depression. It’s typically caused by a combination of physical and emotional factors that occur after childbirth. It’s important to emphasize that postpartum depression doesn’t develop as the result of something the mother does or doesn’t do.

Significant changes in hormones combined with physical and emotional exhaustion and sleep deprivation can significantly contribute to postpartum depression.

A mother’s history of depression and mental illness or a family history of depression and mental illness are possible risk factors for postpartum depression. Other risk factors include experiencing severe emotional, financial, health or relationship stress within the past year.

Unplanned pregnancies, being under the age of 20, or a lack of support system can also possibly increase the risk of developing postpartum depression.

In fact, many studies have been done to explore the association between postpartum depression and maternal age. In a recent Canadian study, researchers found that women in their 20s, as well as women in their 40s, may have an increased risk of developing postpartum depression.

How Maternal Age Impacts Risk of Postpartum Depression

This data helps explain the relationship between maternal age and a woman's risk of postpartum depression. The numbers below represent the percentage of women with postpartum depression within the first 5 years of giving birth.

The chart illustrates that both younger new mothers, as well as older new mothers, may have an increased risk of developing postpartum depression.

Learn More About Causes & Risk Factors of PPD

Postpartum Depression Timeline

Symptoms and signs of postpartum depression typically start to present themselves within the first few weeks after childbirth. Sometimes, however, symptoms can begin later on.

Symptoms may intensify at first and ease within the months following.

Postpartum depression symptoms may last up to six months after childbirth.

Find out the Timeline of PPD

Postpartum Depression Types

There are several types of postpartum depression that range in severity of symptoms. The types of postpartum depression include:

  • Postpartum Blues: A milder and short-term form of the disorder that affects roughly 30-80% of new mothers and includes symptoms of sadness, crying, tiredness, insomnia and anxiety.
  • Postpartum Anxiety: Intense and chronic anxiety that can last from weeks to months and includes nervousness, fear and constant worry that something bad will happen to the baby.
  • Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Occurs 4-5 months before giving birth and one month after and includes disturbing thoughts or images of harm coming to the baby or uncontrollable fear or worry of being left alone with the baby.
  • Postpartum Panic Disorder: A type of postpartum anxiety that includes physical symptoms such as racing heart, tightening chest, hyperventilation, dizziness, weakness, and other extreme symptoms.
  • Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): A disorder that results from a trauma that occurred during childbirth or afterward. It can include incidents such as an unplanned C-section, the baby being sent to the NICU, physical childbirth complications or a general lack of support or reassurance during delivery.
  • Postpartum Psychosis: A rare and severe disorder that is characterized by drastic changes in symptoms from agitation and anxiety to memory loss and confusion as well as hallucinations and disinterest in one’s own baby.

Postpartum Depression Diagnosis

There are several ways that doctors can help to diagnose postpartum depression. They must first make the distinction between other mental illness conditions and actual postpartum depression. Doctors will also make a diagnosis as to the severity of the condition and whether it’s short-term postpartum baby blues or something more severe.

Doctors use other diagnostic tools such as a depression screening questionnaire. Doctors may also order a blood test to rule out other medical conditions such as a thyroid disorder. Doctors may also use several other types of tests to rule out other possible medical conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

Mental health professionals will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to help diagnose mental conditions such as postpartum depression.

Learn How PPD is Diagnosed

Postpartum Depression in Men

While postpartum depression mainly affects the mother, fathers may also exhibit signs of paternal postpartum depression. This condition may come on more gradually in men within the first 12 months of a child’s life as opposed to women who experience it sooner.

While men may cope with their symptoms differently than women do, postpartum depression in men produces similar symptoms. These symptoms include depression, guilt, lack of sleep, loss of interest in social or other activities and difficulty concentrating on tasks. Men may also experience feelings of irritability, frustration and can at times exhibit violent and angry behaviors.

Learn How Men Can Develop PPD

Postpartum Depression in Adoptive Parents

Adoptive parents can also experience postpartum depression. Research has shown that this often has to do with the unmet expectations that adoptive parents place on themselves or the child when the baby or child is placed in their home.

Often, adoptive parents feel that they do not get the same support from friends, family and society as birth parents would expect. All of these factors contribute to an emotional state that can become depression resembling postpartum depression.

The signs of postpartum depression in adoptive parents are very similar to those in birthparents. This includes irritability or changes in mood, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, guilt, shame and indecisiveness. Like birthparents, adoptive parents will also lose interest in their usual social or physical activities.

The postpartum depression symptoms in adoptive parents not only affect the parents themselves but can also affect the emotional wellbeing of the child.

Postpartum Depression Marriage Problems

Postpartum depression can greatly affect relationships and marriages. Because the moods and behaviors of those affected change so drastically in a matter of weeks, it can place incredible concern or strain on the other partner.

Having a newborn is difficult for couples under any circumstance. But the added stress of coping with postpartum depression can create a new set of struggles that many couples feel ill-equipped to handle.

Because there are still misconceptions surrounding emotional disorders like PPD, it can make it difficult in many cases for the partner to understand and empathize fully with how postpartum depression has affected their loved one.
Potential marriage problems that can arise during postpartum depression include:

  • A lack of communication between the couple
  • The added burden of increased responsibility toward the baby and the mother
  • Decrease in sex and intimacy
  • Anxiety about when the PPD symptoms will end
  • Loss of interest in other activities and time for themselves

It’s important to understand that each couple is different. While some couples may experience marital struggles and challenges, others may not. There are treatment and counseling options available to ensure that couples can work through their challenges in supportive and healthy ways.

Learn More About Marriage Issues PPD Can Cause

PostpartumDepression.org Team
Reviewed by:Kimberly Langdon M.D.

Medical Editor

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kimberly Langdon is a Doctor of Medicine and graduated from The Ohio State University in 1991. She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Ohio State University Hospitals, Department of OB/GYN. Board-Certified in 1997, she is now retired from clinical practice after a long and successful career. Currently, she is the Founder and Chief Medical Officer of a Medical Device Company that is introducing a patented products to treat vaginal microbial infections without the need for drugs. She is an expert in Vaginal Infections, Menstrual disorders, Menopause, and Contraception.

Written by:

Jenna Carberg was diagnosed with postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter in 2016. It was a healthy birth but in following days, Jenna's mood changed quickly. Doctors suggested that it might be the "baby blues", but her husband Chris suggested she seek a second opinion. Jenna was diagnosed with postpartum depression and began a journey that lasted 9 long months with significant ups and downs. Jenna's mental health care and her experiences became a passion for her to share with the world. She and her husband Chris founded PostpartumDepression.org as a support website designed to help women suffering in silence and their loved ones.

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