Postpartum Depression Causes & Risk Factors

How is Postpartum Depression Caused?

Postpartum depression is a mental and emotional health condition that affects primarily women who have recently given birth. Because postpartum depression has many different forms and symptoms and affects different women in different ways, it has been difficult to reach a conclusion that this condition has one unique cause.

Instead, it is believed that postpartum depression can have multiple causes all leading to the development of this condition. Each woman who develops postpartum depression has her own set of risk factors that have led her to be more susceptible to its development.

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

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

Postpartum Depression Causes

There are potentially many causes of postpartum depression in women. From possible genetic predispositions, to the history of the mother’s health, to countless other environmental, physical and emotional factors, there isn’t necessarily one specific cause in each case.

Here are some of the possible postpartum depression causes:

Physical Causes of Postpartum Depression

One of the most commonly believed causes of postpartum depression is that it stems from the drastic hormonal changes that occur once a mother gives birth. Dramatic drops in estrogen and progesterone levels place the body into a sudden hormonal shift which is thought to trigger emotional repercussions.

However, studies are starting to suggest that though hormonal changes may be a contributing factor, many non-depressed women experience the same drop in hormones and have the same estrogen levels as women who do have postpartum depression.

Other physical causes can possibly include sleep deprivation as a large role in causing postpartum depression. Women who give birth are often sleep deprived in the weeks following due their new responsibilities of 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’s difficult to identify any one particular cause of postpartum depression in any given case of it, it’s better to isolate certain factors that put woman at a greater risk of develop PPD.

Risk factors that are possible contributors to developing postpartum depression can include genetic, health, environmental, emotional and physical influences. Depending on the particular case, there may be multiple risk factors involved and can include a combination of different emotional, physical and psychological health issues.

Genetic and Medical History Risk Factors

If a woman has one or more family members who have suffered from postpartum depression in the past, then this can possibly place her at a greater risk of developing it as well.

Additionally, women who have struggled with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety or who have suffered more significant mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, are an estimated 30-35% more likely to be faced with postpartum depression in their lifetime. Women who have experienced postpartum depression in previous childbirths are also much more likely to experience it again with future childbirths.

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. When studied, these genetic alterations were discovered through a blood test.

Emotional Risk Factors

In terms of emotional risk factors, women who face emotional and mental stress before, during or right after pregnancy could be at a greater risk of developing postpartum depression. These types of stresses 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.

Stresses such as facing new responsibilities or feeling like they have no time for themselves or social activities can also cause women to feel anxious and depressed after childbirth.

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 who face abusive domestic situations may also be more likely to develop depression during and after pregnancy.

Other Risk Factors:

There are a variety of other possible risk factors that may 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

By being aware of the potential causes and risk factors of postpartum depression, women and their families can better prepare themselves for this potential outcome and take preventative measures to limit the debilitating effects of this condition. Talk to your physician or mental health professional if you have concerns over possible postpartum depression risk factors that may affect you.