Understanding Postpartum Depression

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When you have a baby, you expect to have feelings of joy and excitement over your new arrival. But what does it mean if you don’t?

Postpartum Depression vs. the Baby Blues

After childbirth, you may feel depressed, anxious, or upset for no reason. These feelings could be toward the new baby, your partner, your other children, or your family who wants to come meet the new baby. You may also cry for no reason or have trouble sleeping, eating, or thinking clearly to make decisions. You may feel overwhelmed and question your ability to care for your new baby.

These feelings are often called the baby blues, and they are commonly felt by new mothers. They may come and go within the first few days after childbirth. You will likely feel better and back to your normal self within a week or two.

On the other hand, postpartum depression involves more intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair. These feelings are so extreme that they prevent you from being able to handle the daily tasks of caring for yourself and your baby. Postpartum depression usually starts a week or two after childbirth, but it could start up to a year after having your baby.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is likely caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • Changes in hormones – Right after you have your baby, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body drop sharply. This decline in hormones could trigger depression in the same way that smaller changes can cause mood swings around the time of your period.
  • History of depression – If you have previously had issues with depression at any time in your life, you are more likely to develop postpartum depression.
  • Emotional factors – You may have feelings of doubt about your ability to take care of your baby or concern over adapting your lifestyle to having a new baby in the family. If your baby has to stay in the hospital for an extended time, you could also be carrying feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness.
  • Fatigue – You may feel very tired after giving birth, and this can be aggravated by a new baby’s short sleep cycles. It can take weeks before you regain your normal strength and energy levels. If you had a cesarean section, it can take even longer to recover.
  • Lifestyle factors – If you don’t feel you have support from your partner or family, or if you are experiencing other stressful life events such as a death of a loved one, a family illness, or a career change, your chances of developing postpartum depression greatly increase.

If you think you might have postpartum depression or your friends or family are concerned you have it, talk to your doctor right away. He or she can recommend treatments such as antidepressants, support groups, talking with a counselor, or a combination of approaches to help you feel better and back to your normal self.

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