If you are thinking about getting pregnant in the future, currently pregnant, or have recently given birth, you may be concerned about the possibility of experiencing postpartum depression. Many people have some idea of what postpartum depression is on a broad scale but do not realize that it involves more than just feeling sad after the baby is born. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is a fantastic resource for information on postpartum depression, but let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people have about the condition.
What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?
Many people talk about being emotional after they give birth. These feelings can be natural considering the fluctuating hormones, sleep deprivation, physical discomfort, and new responsibilities that are in play in the postpartum period. But there’s an important distinction between what is referred to as the “baby blues” and postpartum depression.
Many women will experience what is known as the baby blues, which generally begin a few days after the baby is born. Symptoms include feeling depressed, upset, or anxious. Women with the baby blues may have trouble sleeping and eating, cry easily for no clear reason, and have difficulty in making decisions. They may also doubt their ability to care for the new baby. The baby blues will come and go and usually get better after a week or two on their own.
However, postpartum depression is a more serious condition that interferes with a woman’s ability to function during daily life. Intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, despair, and inadequacy plague those who have postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can make caring for yourself and your baby difficult. In some cases, it can also interfere with your ability to bond with your baby.
Postpartum depression will usually occur about one to three weeks after childbirth, but it’s possible for it to occur up to a year after the birth. The length of time someone can suffer from postpartum depression varies widely on an individual basis. This can depend on their access and responsiveness to treatments, lifestyle, and support system.
If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression, it is important to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. The sooner you seek help and begin treatment, the better.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is most likely caused by a combination of factors. Some factors that can contribute to postpartum depression include:
- A history of depression before pregnancy
- Changes in hormones like estrogen and progesterone
- Fatigue or sleep deprivation
- Lack of support from others
- Stressful life events (in addition to the new baby)
- Emotional factors surrounding the pregnancy
What are the Treatments Available for Postpartum Depression?
There are a few ways to treat and manage postpartum depression. To determine a treatment plan, work with your doctor and any healthcare professionals they may refer you to. A treatment plan may include one or more of the following:
- Antidepressants: If you are suffering from postpartum depression, your doctor will probably recommend taking an antidepressant, at least temporarily. Antidepressants are prescription drugs used to treat chemical imbalances in the brain that affect mood and can cause depression.
Different antidepressants can have side effects that affect people to different degrees. Talk with your doctor about the potential for side effects and weigh them against the potential benefits. Often the positives of helping you function and recover from postpartum depression outweigh the side effects.
If you are nursing and concerned about taking medication that may be passed on to your baby through breastmilk, that’s an important conversation to have with your doctor as well.
- Talk therapy: Talk therapy, sometimes referred to as psychotherapy, is another way you can treat postpartum depression. It is often used to supplement an antidepressant. In talk therapy, you will work with a trained professional to talk about your feelings and come up with effective ways to manage them. It is often very useful to talk regularly to an unbiased party who is legally required to keep your conversations confidential. Therapy is a judgment-free zone so you might feel more comfortable talking one-on-one to a therapist than to family or friends. However, sometimes it is useful to have your partner or other family members come to therapy for couples or family therapy sessions.
- Support groups: Similar to therapy, support groups are useful because they provide you with an outlet to express your feelings without feeling like you might be reprimanded or shamed for doing so. Unlike talk therapy where much of the conversation is between you and a therapist, support groups are helpful because they are made up of people facing similar challenges as you. Knowing you are not alone in the way you feel can often be an important part of overcoming issues like postpartum depression. Your healthcare provider or the hospital where you gave birth can help you find a support group in your area. The Postpartum Support International website is also another helpful resource.
Can Postpartum Depression Be Prevented?
If someone has a personal history of depression that’s unrelated to pregnancy, they are at higher risk for postpartum depression. Therefore, patients who have struggled with clinical depression previously should disclose this to their doctor from the beginning, preferably before they start trying to get pregnant. If the individual is currently taking medication for depression, they should discuss whether it is safe to continue on it during pregnancy. And if not, give guidelines to titrate off the medication and help with an alternative plan. In some of these cases, doctors will recommend starting antidepressants after the child is born as a precaution.
If you have concerns about postpartum depression, the team at Green Valley OB/GYN can help. Our board-certified physicians have a combined 200 years of experience. With expertise in managing both high and low-risk pregnancies, we will work to give you the best possible care before, during, and after childbirth. We can provide advice, recommendations, and other resources to help with postpartum depression and other concerns. To schedule an appointment, call 336-378-1110. You can also access our patient portal to manage appointments and access other health information.