What is postpartum depression?

Close to three-quarters of new mothers experience the “baby blues” — a short-lived emotional response that makes them feel irritable, restless, and anxious.

Postpartum depression differs from the baby blues in that the symptoms are more severe and last longer. This type of depression affects around 13% of moms.

Although many women who experience postpartum depression begin to feel its effects right after giving birth, symptoms can occur as much as six or more months later.

What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?

If you have several of the symptoms listed below for more than two weeks, contact your healthcare provider and ask to be screened for postpartum depression.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, and helpless
  • Experiencing a change in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Having little interest in your child
  • Having thoughts of doing harm to your child or yourself

What causes postpartum depression?

Women with the following risk factors are more likely to develop postpartum depression:

  • Previous depression
  • Family history of depression
  • Lack of support from family and friends
  • Financial or relationship problems

Postpartum depression can occur alone or with other health problems such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. It can also happen with other mental health disorders such as substance abuse or anxiety disorders. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment is important to recovery.

A diagnosis is made after a careful mental health exam and health history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health provider.

How is postpartum depression diagnosed?

Typical diagnostic procedures for postpartum depression include a complete health history, physical exam, and psychiatric evaluation. In some cases, you may need a thyroid screening. This test can find any hormone or metabolic problems that may be causing the postpartum depression.

How is postpartum depression treated?

Most people who get the "baby blues," postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder have never had these symptoms before, especially with such intensity. In any case, it is important to get correct treatment early. Treatment makes sure that the newborn stays safe and correctly cared for. It also helps ease symptoms so you can experience all the joys of parenthood.

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Medicine, such as hormone treatments, antidepressants, or both
  • Psychological treatment for you and your family or partner
  • Peer support, such as support groups and educational classes
  • Stress management and relaxation training
  • Exercise
  • Assertiveness training, if needed, to help you learn how to set limits with family members so you do not become overwhelmed and overworked

Who is at risk for postpartum depression?

Between 50 and 85% of new mothers experience a brief postpartum period of tears and anxiety, termed the “baby blues.” However 10 to 15% of women experience postpartum depression, or PPD, a longer- lasting and more intense type of mood disorder.

Next steps

Self-care steps to take

Fortunately, postpartum depression is treatable. A mental health professional can help by providing a combination of medication and talk therapies.

Speaking with other mothers and learning from what they have experienced can also help you feel better. Other steps you can take include:

  • Asking family and friends to care for your child for short periods of time and help with chores and errands, giving you time to rest or exercise
  • Not expecting to be a perfect parent or to pick your life up where it left off before you became a mom
  • Joining a support group for mothers with postpartum depression
  • Accepting that being a parent is difficult, and that it’s OK to ask for help

If you have suicidal thoughts

If at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately seek help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby. Call 911 or your local emergency assistance number to get help and consider the following options:

  • Seek help from a healthcare provider.
  • Call a mental health provider.
  • Contact a suicide hotline. Call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7, or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential. For help in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader, or someone else in your faith community.