Identifying and Treating Postpartum Depression: What Postpartum Women Need to Know

Post Top Image

Feeling tired, anxious or even a bit sad during the weeks after childbirth is normal.

These common feelings, also referred to as the “baby blues,” are caused by hormonal changes and lack of sleep that new moms experience and usually only last for about 2 weeks following childbirth.

But for 1 in 9 women, those feelings can last much longer—and become much more intense—if they are a result of postpartum depression. Women need to understand how to recognize symptoms, seek help and, most of all, know that it gets better.”

What causes postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a serious mood disorder that can affect new moms for weeks to months at a time. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone plummet following childbirth, which can cause intense sadness, mood swings and other emotional symptoms.

Additional risk factors that increase the likelihood of postpartum depression include a past history of depression and/or anxiety, sleep deprivation, lack of a support system and any emotional factor such as a traumatic birth, illness or family-related issues.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

Depression can look different for every woman.

Symptoms vary in type and severity for patients experiencing postpartum depression. Some women experience a few symptoms while others experience many. But if the symptoms begin to interfere with everyday life, it’s important to tell your doctor as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of postpartum depression are:

  • Intense, long lasting sadness or an “empty” feeling
  • Frequent crying
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, inadequacy, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Feeling anxious, wired or “on edge”
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • Extreme lack of energy or lethargy
  • Problems concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep)
  • Sleeping too much
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Trouble bonding with baby
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains that do not get better with treatment

Where can I get help?

Getting better starts with a conversation with your healthcare provider.

If it’s been 2 weeks and you still feel depressed, or experience any of these symptoms, you need to tell your healthcare provider. Postpartum depression is treatable, and the earlier you get help, the better.

Treatments for postpartum depression

  • Counseling/therapy – Talk therapy, sometimes in combination with medications, can be used to combat postpartum depression. Therapists treat patients by helping them talk through their feelings and equipping them with coping tools necessary in managing their emotions and/or anxiety. Therapy can be offered in one-on-one sessions or a group setting.
  • Medication – Many moms find relief with antidepressants. They work by balancing out the chemicals in the brain that help control moods and emotions. There are many antidepressants available, and your doctor will know what’s best for you based on other current medications, whether you’re breastfeeding and medical history.
  • Healthy lifestyle – Improving your diet and exercise regimen may not cure postpartum depression alone, but it can help improve your mood and energy levels during recovery. Focus on incorporating plenty of lean protein, whole grains and fruits and vegetable into your diet. For exercise, ACOG recommends 20-30 minutes a day of moderate to intense physical activity. Make sure you’ve been cleared by your doctor to start exercising after giving birth — take it slow, and stop if you feel pain.

Be sure to follow through with the treatment plan your doctor prescribes for you. Keep in touch and let your provider know if medications are not working or if you are still feeling depressed. Your provider can change your dosage or switch you to a different medication.

Immediate help is available if you need it.

If you feel the situation is potentially life-threatening, call 911.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential crisis counseling.

For more information or resources on postpartum depression, visit www.postpartum.net.

Call 304-826-1695 to schedule an appointment at Mon Health Obstetrics & Gynecology.