Postpartum depression (PPD) is not just a little bit of sadness after a baby is born that is the result of hormone levels returning to normal, although that can certainly be the case for some women. For some women, though, it is a debilitating depression that can last for months or years after the birth of the baby, putting both mother and baby in danger. There are three different levels, all of which are related to postpartum depression: baby blues, postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis.
The symptoms of postpartum depression vary in intensity and severity. Often, postpartum depression will first present with symptoms similar to a milder form of depression known as “the baby blues.” Baby blues may resolve on its own and is more common than the other forms. Postpartum depression is more intense and can last for years, if left untreated. Postpartum psychosis is the most debilitating form of mental illness found after the birth of a child, and usually develops within the first few weeks after giving birth.
Baby Blues/ Early Postpartum Depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Trouble falling asleep
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased sex drive
- Excessive fatigue
- Extreme mood swings
- Feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy
- Inability to bond with the baby
- Thoughts of harming the baby or self
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Attempting to hurt self
- Attempting to hurt the baby
Baby blues do not usually need treatment, as the issues will resolve naturally over the course of several weeks. Sleep, assistance caring for the baby, social interaction, and avoiding alcohol can all help reduce symptoms. Postpartum depression usually requires counseling and medication to resolve issues. Medications may include antidepressants or hormone therapy. With treatment, symptoms may resolve within a few months, but it is possible they could linger for more than a year. It is important that treatment not end too soon, as it could lead to a relapse.
Postpartum psychosis must be treated immediately and may require the mother be hospitalized. A combination of therapy and medications are used to treat postpartum psychosis. Medications may include antidepressants, as well as mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.
All forms of postpartum depression are difficult for most women to talk about – or even think about. It is the time in their lives when they feel they are supposed to be happiest. Likely, their family and friends will be expecting them to be joyful, and the mother may not know how to share how she is feeling for fear of disappointing them or seeming like a bad mother. It is especially important that the healthcare providers who are around the mother during this time take the time to find out if she is experiencing any of the postpartum depression symptoms so she can receive the care she needs.
How have you helped educate new mothers about the various forms of postpartum depression? Do you find that some mothers are relieved to know what is happening to them or are the majority offended that you’ve questioned the joy their child has brought?