Recognizing Postpartum Depression

by Catherine Rein
(last updated April 22, 2009)

Postpartum depression is different from the "blues." A down emotional period after the birth of a child is quite common and is due to the change in hormone levels. Depression is a serious mental illness that can greatly interfere with daily activities and prevent a mother from being able to take care of herself or her baby. Doctors believe about 13 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression

You can recognize postpartum depression in yourself or in your loved ones if they are feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed after the birth of a child and if these symptoms don't go away for more than two weeks.

  • Symptoms. Other symptoms of postpartum include crying a lot, having little to no energy, having trouble making decisions and losing pleasure in activities you use to enjoy. Other symptoms may include having memory problems, withdrawing from friends and family and having physical symptoms such as headache, fatigue or stomach problems that don't go away.
  • Causes. There does not appear to be one single cause of postpartum depression. Hormonal changes may be one culprit. After giving birth, your hormones of estrogen and progesterone quickly return to pre-pregnancy levels. This dramatic change may kick off the symptoms of depression. Levels of thyroid hormones may also be to blame. The thyroid is a gland in the neck that regulates how the body uses and stores food energy. Depression can result from low levels of thyroid in the blood.
  • Treatments. Support therapy is the most common treatment for postpartum depression. Talking to a therapist, psychologist or social worker can help you understand your mood changes and how depression can affect how you feel and act. Medication is also available. Antidepressants can help relieve symptoms of depression.

To combat postpartum blues and head of postpartum depression, try to rest as much as you can and ask for help from your partner or family. You should consider joining a support group or group of mothers to be able to discuss your feelings and learn from others' experiences. Avoid making any major life changes right after giving birth.

You might be more susceptible to postpartum depression if you have a family history of depression or another mental illness, if you've suffered with anxiety or stress about the pregnancy, marriage or money problems or if you suffered with similar problems with a previous pregnancy or birth. Postpartum depression is also more likely to hit young mothers and those people without a strong support system of family and friends.

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