Mental health issues are a leading cause of maternal mortality. Understanding what postpartum depression (PPD) is and how it affects mothers can help save lives and create a more empowering space for those dealing with it.
As per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four out of five pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable. Mental health issues contribute to a large chunk of these deaths. Every one in eight women reports experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression. In fact, research by the University of Michigan found that the number soared to one in three mothers during the pandemic.
Even with such high prevalence rates, postpartum depression is not something that people talk about. Half of the women dealing with the condition do not have access to proper treatment and care. One of the primary barriers that restrict women from receiving the required help is a lack of awareness about symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options related to PPD.
If you believe that you or someone you love might be dealing with postpartum depression, learning more about the condition can help. To help you get started, we will dive into what postpartum depression is and the various aspects of the condition.
But before we get started, here’s something important.
Mental and neurological health are diverse and complex. They exist on a spectrum, and every individual has their own experiences. Therefore, don’t start diagnosing yourself with the knowledge you get by reading a few articles on the Internet (though we are incredibly grateful to you for stopping by to enhance your understanding of an important topic). If you find this article helpful or resonate with the symptoms explained in it, consider this as the beginning of your journey of getting the right help.
That’s it. Let’s dive in!
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that affects around 15% of adult mothers every year. It develops soon after giving birth and can cause depressive symptoms that can last longer than six months in half the diagnosed cases. PPD is generally reported in the first four to six weeks of giving birth. However, it can begin anytime during the first year postpartum. Studies have reported that postpartum depression can begin even after four years of giving birth.
PPD is often confused with postpartum blues (baby blues). Postpartum blues affect 80% of mothers. These are feelings of tiredness and anxiety that occur right after giving birth. However, they usually subside after a few weeks. Postpartum depression, on the contrary, lasts much longer.
Without proper treatment and consultations, there is no answer as to ‘how long does postpartum depression last.’
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression?
The symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to other forms of depressive disorders. Signs of PPD are usually visible within the first four weeks of giving birth. However, they can even begin within the first three days of giving birth. Symptoms might start in the first six months or a year for other people. This is why it might become challenging to identify the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression.
The common signs of postpartum depression include the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling overwhelmed most of the time
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Having frequent changes in weight and appetite
- Feeling detached or withdrawn from the baby
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Feeling tired throughout the day
- Feeling lonely and neglected by your loved ones
- Feeling guilt and shame
- Having pains and aches
- Having thoughts about hurting yourself or the baby
This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms. Signs of PPD occur on a spectrum, and no list can cover the diversity of symptoms. However, postpartum depression symptoms can last for months. Therefore, it’s essential that you talk to your loved ones about your condition and get timely help.
What Are the Causes Of Postpartum Depression?
Just like other forms of depressive disorders, there’s no consensus on the exact causes of postpartum depression. Research suggests several potential causes of PPD, including the following:
- Sensitivity to hormonal changes during pregnancy
- Genetic factors
- Lack of sleep
- Social stressors
- Impact on overall well-being
Studies suggest that a number of physical and emotional factors most likely cause postpartum depression. The risk factors associated with the development of PPD include the following:
- Thyroid and related conditions
- Family history of depressive disorders
- Multiple pregnancies
- Social isolation
- Teen pregnancy
- Sleep deprivation
- Pregnancy-related complications
Since there are multiple potential causes of PPD, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force generally recommends mothers undergo postpartum depression screening before and after giving birth.
How Is PPD Diagnosed?
The postpartum depression diagnostic criteria are set by the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM-V). However, DSM-V does not qualify PPD as a separate condition. It is clubbed along with other depressive disorders.
Therefore, a person is given a postpartum depression diagnosis if they have five or more depression symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer.
Your doctor will ask you a detailed questionnaire regarding your thoughts and feelings about the diagnosis. These questions are detailed and specific to eliminate regular baby blues or stress due to motherhood.
It’s important to share with your doctor the details about the frequency, severity, and duration of your symptoms. Any other information about your mental health and additional input about your symptoms can be highly beneficial.
When To Ask Help?
If you believe that you or someone you know is dealing with PPD, it’s essential to consult a mental health professional for the right guidance.
Treatment for postpartum depression is necessary, especially if:
- you feel your symptoms getting worse or more intense,
- you have recurring thoughts about hurting yourself or the baby,
- your symptoms affect your ability to perform daily tasks, and
- your physical symptoms are getting more severe.
What Are the Treatments For Postpartum Depression?
The treatments for postpartum depression are similar to the treatment options available for other forms of depressive disorders. Psychotherapy and medications are the preferred treatment choice and work well for most people. That said, you might require several rounds of trial and error to figure out what actually works for you.
The main postpartum depression treatment options are:
Postpartum depression counseling and therapy are effective treatment options for the condition. Talking to a mental health professional about your feelings can be helpful to identify your triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Through cognitive-behavioral therapy, patients with PPD are able to make sense of their feelings, solve problems, and set manageable mental health goals. In some instances, group or family therapy can be essential, too.
Along with psychotherapy, your healthcare provider might also prescribe postpartum depression medications to assist your recovery.
Generally, breastfeeding mothers are advised to avoid medications as they mix with the milk, which can be harmful to the baby. However, certain antidepressants can be used by breastfeeding without worrying about the baby’s health.
That said, it’s essential that you consult your doctor and identify the potential risks and concerns without starting any medications.
3. New options
For women who show less or no response to such treatments, several new and intensive treatment options are being steadily developed. These include inpatient and full-day outpatient facilities.
Additionally, new postpartum depression medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), namely brexanolone and zuranolone. With such developments, it’s safe to say that the field of maternal health has finally become a significant concern for the scientific and medical health community.
Is There Any Way To Prevent PPD?
While there are no ways to prevent the development of postpartum depression, there are certain precautions you can take to minimize the risk factors. If you are someone with a history or family history of mental health conditions, it can be beneficial to inform your healthcare provider about your pregnancy plans.
During pregnancy, consult a doctor regularly to monitor any potential signs and symptoms of postpartum depression. They can even use a detailed questionnaire that can be used before and after postpartum to evaluate your mental health.
Postpartum depression is a mental health mood disorder classified by depressive symptoms in mothers lasting for six months or longer. It is generally confused with baby blues. However, the duration and severity of PPD are higher than baby blues.
There are several postpartum depression treatment options available for proper recovery for patients. These include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both. Therefore, no matter how intense your symptoms are, seeking timely help and cure is essential.
We hope this blog post on what postpartum depression is will help you gain more understanding about the condition. Here are some more credible postpartum depression resources that can help you moving forward:
- Postpartum Education for Parents Outreach Form
- Postpartum Support International HelpLine
- Postpartum Progress Support Groups
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
If reading this blog post made you feel like you might have PPD, take a deep breath and calm down. As scary as it feels right now, just remember that millions of people around you struggle with the disorder and get better every day. While the road is complicated and long, proper professional help and self-care are the right way forward.
Access to professional help is now easier than ever. With online therapy, you can experience the comfort of therapy right from your home. To learn more about the top online platforms, click here.
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