Postpartum Depression Causes & Risk Factors

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a mental and emotional health condition that affects women after childbirth. It has many different forms and symptoms, and it affects women in different ways. Therefore, it is difficult to attribute this condition to one unique cause.

Instead, it is believed that postpartum depression can have multiple causes. Each woman who develops postpartum depression has her own set of risk factors that made her more susceptible to its development.

In some cases, it’s unclear as to why and how a woman developed postpartum depression. This can make it even more confusing and challenging for those suffering from this crippling condition.

It is vital for women suffering from postpartum depression to understand that it is not the result of something she did or did not do. In other words, it is never the mother’s fault that postpartum depression develops.

Postpartum Depression Causes

There are many causes of postpartum depression in women. Potential causes include genetic predispositions, the mother’s health history and countless other environmental, physical and emotional factors.

Physical Causes of Postpartum Depression

It is most commonly believed that postpartum depression stems from the drastic hormonal changes that take place during and after childbirth. Decreased estrogen and progesterone levels place the body into a sudden hormonal shift. This is thought to trigger emotional repercussions.

However, many non-depressed women experience the same drop in hormones and have the same estrogen levels as women who do have PPD.

Sleep deprivation may also play a large role in causing postpartum depression. Following childbirth, women often do not get enough sleep due to their new responsibilities caring for their child. A lack of sleep can greatly impact how a woman functions, feels and handles situations. Without proper and consistent sleep, women may start to exhibit signs of postpartum depression.

Emotional Causes of Postpartum Depression

In addition to hormonal changes and sleep deprivation, there are other emotional triggers that can cause postpartum depression. These types of emotional situations may include complications faced during childbirth, as well as general feelings of being overwhelmed by new motherhood.

Postpartum Depression Risk Factors

Because it is difficult to identify any one particular cause of postpartum depression, it is better to isolate certain factors that put woman at a greater risk of developing PPD.

Risk factors that may contribute to postpartum depression include genetics and environmental, emotional and physical influences. Other risk factors include a combination of emotional, physical and psychological health issues.

Genetic and Medical History Risk Factors

Women with one or more family members who have suffered from postpartum depression have a greater risk of developing it as well.

Those who have struggled with mood disorders like depression or anxiety or more significant mental illnesses like bipolar disorder are 30% to 35% more likely to face postpartum depression in their lifetime. Women who have experienced postpartum depression in previous childbirths are also much more likely to experience it again.

Recent studies have shown that there is a possible genetic factor in developing postpartum depression. According to Johns Hopkins researchers, there are possibly two different genetic alterations that, when present during pregnancy, may predict whether a woman will develop postpartum depression. These genetic alterations were discovered through blood tests.

Environmental Risk Factors

A recent study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that women who live in big cities have the highest rates of PPD. This is largely due to the fact that many women living in larger cities have lower levels of social support.

The study surveyed 6,126 new mothers living in Canada’s metropolitan cities, suburbs, towns, farming communities and very remote areas.

The percentages of new mothers who had a risk of screening positive for postpartum depression are displayed below.

Urban Women and Postpartum Depression

This chart displays the percentage of new mothers in various types of locations who are at risk of developing postpartum depression.

The chart reveals that out of all women surveyed, there were more instances of postpartum depression among the women who lived in cities.

Emotional Risk Factors

Women who face emotional and mental stress before, during or right after pregnancy may be at a greater risk of developing postpartum depression. Stressors may include job loss, financial burdens, the death of a friend or family member, the end of a relationship or any other type of stressful life situation.

Women may also feel anxious and depressed after childbirth due to new responsibilities or the feeling that they have no time for themselves or social activities.

Additionally, women who lack the support of a partner, family members or friends during pregnancy may be more likely to experience symptoms of postpartum depression. Women in abusive domestic situations may also be at a greater risk of developing depression during and after pregnancy.

Other Risk Factors:

There are a variety of other possible risk factors that play a role in whether a woman will develop postpartum depression.

These other postpartum risk factors include:

  • Having an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
  • Being under the age of 20 when pregnant
  • Current substance abuse such as drugs or alcohol
  • Abruptly stopping taking medications during or after pregnancy
  • Being single or without a partner to co-parent

Awareness of the potential causes and risk factors of postpartum depression allows women and their families to better prepare for this potential outcome. Then, they can take preventative measures to limit the debilitating effects of this condition.

Talk to your physician or mental health professional if you are concerned about postpartum depression risk factors that may affect you.

Author:Avatar
Jenna Carberg

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.

Last modified: May 3, 2019

View 4 References
  1. Postpartum Depression Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

  2. Genetic Predictors of Postpartum Depression Uncovered by Johns Hopkins Researchers – 05/21/2013. (2013, May 21). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/genetic_predictors_of_postpartum_depression_uncovered_by_johns_hopkins_researchers

  3. Postpartum depression. (2018, September 01). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617

  4. Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues. (2019, January 03). Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/postpartum-depression-and-the-baby-blues.htm