Bringing a new life into this world is a life-altering event. Many parents experience mood swings and worry in the early weeks. But for some, low mood, anxiety, and difficulty coping continue for longer. Postpartum depression is common among new parents and it can make life with a young baby feel overwhelming. With the right help and support, most parents are able to manage the symptoms of postpartum depression, bond with their babies, and find joy in life again.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a new baby. It is sometimes known as postnatal depression or perinatal depression.
Like other forms of depression, postpartum depression is more than just having the occasional bad day. It is a long-term feeling of low mood.
Postpartum depression often develops slowly, so many people don’t realize that they have it for some time. But it is also extremely common, affecting between 10% and 20% of new parents. It is important to remember that having postpartum depression has no reflection on you as a parent. People of all backgrounds experience symptoms, regardless of their income, education, ethnicity, or culture.
Too often, parents are encouraged to put their feelings aside to focus on their child’s needs. But reaching out for help if you are struggling is the best thing you can do – for your family and yourself.
How is postpartum depression different from the baby blues?
The ‘baby blues’ is a recognized condition where people experience periods of worry, sadness, and weeping shortly after giving birth. It is so common that new parents are usually told to expect it – 80% of new mothers experience some form of baby blues.
The baby blues are caused by the changing hormones in the body of the birth parent during and after labor. They usually appear around 3 days after birth and are normally gone by the two-week mark.
Some of the symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to the baby blues. Both can involve feeling overwhelmed, tearful, and anxious. But postpartum depression lasts longer than the baby blues and can start any time in the first year after having a baby.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, so what postpartum depression looks like for you may not be a complete reflection of this list. As a whole, postpartum depression can often prevent you from doing your daily tasks or activities.
If you or a loved one suspect that you may have postpartum depression, reach out to your OB GYN doctor or a healthcare professional, even if what you are experiencing is different from what we’ve detailed here.
Common symptoms that you may experience include:
- Low mood, feeling sad and down most of the time
- Irritability, anger, and mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling lethargic, detached, and uninterested in the world around you
- Withdrawing from social contact
- Difficulty sleeping, even though you are exhausted
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Having trouble bonding with your baby
- Feeling overwhelmed most of the time
- Negative thoughts around parenting or your baby
Although it is less common, some people also experience postpartum psychosis. It can include symptoms like hearing voices, hallucinating, or having delusional thoughts. If you have experienced any of these, get in touch with your doctor straight away. Postpartum psychosis needs immediate treatment.
When does postpartum depression start?
Many people think that postpartum depression starts immediately after birth. But you can develop it any time during the first year of your child’s life.
New parents are generally sleep-deprived and adapting to an enormous change in their lives. So, it can take some time before you recognize what you are feeling as postpartum depression. Some people only realize much later that they were experiencing it. But if you can pick up on it early, you’ll be able to put support systems in place to help you cope.
Some people start to experience the symptoms of depression earlier, during pregnancy. At this point, it will usually be known as perinatal depression, antenatal depression, or prenatal depression.
How long does postpartum depression last?
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for how long postpartum depression lasts. A lot depends on your circumstances, how much support you have, and a host of other factors beyond your control.
Some people find their symptoms ease as their baby gets older, starts sleeping more, and life becomes more predictable again. Others find they continue to feel low for several years.
Depression and anxiety can both come and go in waves. Postpartum depression is no different. Feeling better is a process, and it takes time.
Who might experience postpartum depression?
Any parent can experience postpartum depression. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only women who suffer from it. Men can have postpartum depression too. Indeed, it is fairly common, with an estimated 4%-25% of new fathers experiencing symptoms.
And you don’t need to be a biological parent to experience postpartum depression either. Adoptive parents may also find themselves struggling with it. This will sometimes be referred to as post-adoption depression instead, but the symptoms are similar.
What to do if you have postpartum depression?
If you have been experiencing postpartum depression – or think that someone close to you is struggling – there are steps you can take to get help.
The first is to reach out. You could share how you’ve been feeling with family members or close friends and start to put more support in place to help you cope. Taking time for yourself, getting some fresh air, and other forms of self-care are one way to start prioritizing your mental wellness.
You can also reach out to your primary care provider for professional help. They’ll usually start with a postpartum depression screening. This is a series of questions designed to assess how you are feeling. Don’t worry – it isn’t a way of judging your performance, but simply a tool to help them determine if you have postpartum depression. In some cases, your doctor may also do a blood test so that they can eliminate any other underlying medical conditions.
Depending on your symptoms and their severity, your doctor will then suggest a plan of action. This might include therapy alone or therapy combined with medication.
If you prefer, you can seek counseling or therapy directly. The American Psychological Association and the National Register of Health Service Psychologists both hold registers you can use to find a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression.
You can also access help via Postpartum Support International. Their services include a helpline, online support groups, peer support, and a directory of trained mental health providers.