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Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can strike without warning. Women with postpartum depression often have trouble caring for themselves and their babies. They may feel sad, hopeless, or alone. Some women also feel irritable or impatient with their loved ones. These symptoms can be embarrassing and upsetting. Postpartum depression is a common health problem that may affect up to 20% of women.

If you or your partner recently had a baby, keep an eye out for signs of postpartum depression. Left untreated, postpartum depression can take a severe toll on your health. Depression can also make it hard to bond with your baby, but treatment can help lift your mood and speed up your recovery.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Many women feel sad or depressed after giving birth. The phrase "baby blues" has been around for many years, and it's no wonder. Childbirth can be painful and exhausting, and the healing process takes several weeks. During the first month of after birth, new mothers are usually exhausted. Adjusting to parenthood can be challenging, and it's natural to feel a little blue.

For most women, the "baby blues" disappear after the first few weeks. Still, occasionally, feelings of sadness or hopelessness can linger. Some women may develop severe clinical depression after giving birth. This condition is known as postpartum depression.

Most women with postpartum depression develop symptoms within four weeks after delivery. Still, postpartum depression can appear at any time during your child's first year.

If you've had postpartum depression before, you're at risk for developing symptoms after your next pregnancy. Still, postpartum depression can begin at any time. You can develop postpartum depression even if you have no history of mental health issues. That's why all pregnant women need to understand the warning signs.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

Women with postpartum depression often feel sad or empty. Some women report crying or lashing out at their partners, but others say that postpartum depression made them feel numb. Depression can make it tough to keep up with household chores or personal hygiene. People with depression may also struggle to enjoy their favorite activities or hobbies.

Many women with postpartum depression have trouble bonding with their babies. They often fear they're not fit to be a mother, or that having a child was a mistake. Some women even think about running away or abandoning their children.

Postpartum depression can also come with feelings of fearfulness or dread. Some women with this condition worry always. They may spend a lot of time thinking about bad things that could happen to their child.

Postpartum depression can also take a toll on your physical health. Women with postpartum depression often report:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping too much
  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue

Sadly, many women with postpartum depression feel ashamed of their symptoms. They may feel too embarrassed to tell their partner or doctor that they're struggling. Some mothers may also fear losing custody of their child if they admit they are depressed.

There's no need to suffer alone. Most cases of postpartum depression respond well to treatment. Your doctor can help you explore treatments to lift your depression.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

Doctors aren't sure what causes postpartum depression, but hormonal changes may play a role. During pregnancy, your body generates many different hormones. But after you give birth, your hormone levels drop rapidly. These hormone fluctuations can trigger feelings of depression.

Other risk factors include:

  • History of mental illness
  • History of addiction
  • High levels of stress
  • Money worries
  • Relationship problems
  • Lack of a support system

Some studies suggest that women are more likely to struggle with depression if their pregnancy was unplanned. Teen mothers may also be at high risk for postpartum depression.

How is Postpartum Depression Diagnosed?

After giving birth, you see your OBGYN several times. Your doctor checks on you while you're in the hospital or birthing center. You also see your doctor during the following months for check-ups.

During each visit, your doctor makes sure you're healing well. He or she may also ask whether you're feeling down or depressed. If you don't feel like yourself, these follow-up visits are a great time to discuss your symptoms.

If you have any urgent concerns, don't wait until your next scheduled visit. Call your doctor right away. If you're thinking about harming yourself or your baby, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

If you're diagnosed with depression, your medical team can start treatment. During treatment, the team works to identify what's causing your symptoms. If you need help caring for your child, the team can connect you with social services. Your medical team can also provide breastfeeding support and lactation counseling.

How is Postpartum Depression Treated?

Antidepressants may help stabilize your mood. These medications balance out the hormones and chemicals in your brain. Over time, antidepressants help you feel more energetic and positive.

Seeing a counselor or therapist can help, too. Your counselor teaches you how to cope with negative thoughts. He or she can also identify sources of stress in your life. If you're having problems at work or home, therapy can help you resolve these issues.

What can Family Members do to Help?

After giving birth, many women are entirely focused on adjusting to parenthood. They might forget to think about their own health needs. That's why new moms need support from their partner, friends, and family.

If your partner is expecting a baby, watch out for signs of postpartum depression. Track any changes in your partner's mood. If she seems depressed, anxious, or irritable, urge her to call her doctor. You can also contact her doctor directly to share your concerns.

If a loved one has postpartum depression, your support can make a big difference. Many women with postpartum depression feel overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood. Helping out with childcare or household chores can lighten their burden. You can also offer to drive a new mom to her doctor's appointments or pick up her prescriptions. Your support may encourage her to seek medical care and follow her treatment plan.

Above all, reassure new moms that their feelings are shared. Postpartum depression can be a challenge, but it's a problem that many women face. With treatment, women with postpartum depression can overcome their symptoms and enjoy a long, healthy life.

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