One of the less-talked-about mental health conditions today is postpartum depression (PPD). A CDC study shows that about one 1 in 10 women in the US reports symptoms of depression after giving birth; in some states, it’s 1 in 5. But despite its prevalence, almost 60% of those women do not receive a clinical diagnosis. And if any group needs support, it’s new mothers, yet of those who do screen positive for the condition, less than 25% receive follow-up care, often because they don’t fully understand their symptoms or are worried about a perceived stigma around the condition.
During the pandemic, PPD levels in new mothers have been higher than normal. It’s thought that this is due to the general stress that hit us all during this life-threatening global event, as well as necessary hospital covid-19 policies like quarantining, separating family members in the birthing area, and reducing skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby after birth.
In general, postpartum depression can be a highly disruptive condition if not addressed – and often comes at a time when women are still trying to recover from the physical effects of childbirth – so it’s important to raise awareness of what it is, what causes it, who it affects, and ways to cope with it.
What Is Postpartum Depression (PPD) & What Causes It
Postpartum depression (sometimes called peripartum depression) is a serious mental health condition that involves the brain and affects behavior and physical health. Much more than the “baby blues”, PPD causes sad, flat, or empty feelings that don’t go away and often interfere with your day-to-day life. You might feel unconnected to your baby, as if you are not the baby’s mother, or as if you can’t love or care for the baby. These feelings can be mild to severe.
Symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to symptoms for depression (see our symptom list here), but may also include these symptoms which can last for weeks or even months:
Crying more often than usual
Feelings of anger
Withdrawing from loved ones
Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby
Worrying that you will hurt the baby
Feeling guilty about not being a good mom
It’s thought that normal pregnancy hormonal changes in estrogen and progesterone may trigger symptoms of postpartum depression. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, these hormones quickly drop back to normal pre-pregnancy levels, and scientists think this sudden change may lead to depression in some women. Levels of thyroid hormones may also drop after giving birth, and in some women, low levels of thyroid hormones can cause symptoms of depression.
In addition, social and psychological factors play a large role in determining who develops PPD and who does not. For example, women with lower or poorer quality social support, and less stable domestic situations may be at increased risk of PPD. Also, a family or previous history of depression, having multiples like twins or triplets, being a teen mom, or experiencing a preterm birth and/or birth complications can also increase the risk of PPD. It’s also important to note that PPD can also occur in women with a healthy pregnancy and birth.
Treatment Of Postpartum Depression
The best way to know is to watch carefully for the symptoms described above, in yourself or your loved one who recently gave birth. If you notice any, the first step to getting treatment is to talk to your health care provider or mental health professional who can diagnose and prescribe a course of treatment.
Like other types of depression, postpartum depression can be managed with talk therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and a supportive environment, or a combination of all of these. Women who are nursing should discuss the risks and benefits of medication with their doctors.
Tips For Coping With Postpartum Depression
In the meantime, here are some tips to help you cope with postpartum depression (note, these do not replace treatment with a trained professional):
Talk to your partner, friends, and family about your symptoms and your need for support.
Don’t overdo it on housework and baby care once home from the hospital; balance these duties with your partner or a loved one or try to get outside help if that is not possible.
Join a support group of new parents, many of which are now online, making them easier to attend - try looking here or here.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet - again, ask for cooking help from friends and family, or consider a meal delivery service.
Get physically active, as much as possible - even if just a 20 min walk around the block; researchers have found that those who engaged in at least 2 hours per week of moderate intensity exercise were less likely to report depression or anxiety symptoms after birth.
Engage in mindfulness and relaxation, such as meditation or yoga.
Consider Telebehavioral Health
Telemynd offers patients the ability to connect with providers from the safety and convenience of their homes. If you’re a patient, request an appointment online or call our live support for assistance in scheduling care today! If you’re a behavioral health provider looking to join our network, see all the benefits and learn how to apply here.
Centers for Disease Control
US Department of Health and Human Services, OASH
Postpartum Support International (PSI)