The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions—from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect: depression. Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms and help you bond with your baby.
Signs and symptoms of depression after childbirth vary, and they can range from mild to severe. First is baby blues symptoms. These last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born and may include: mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, crying, reduced concentration, appetite problems, and trouble sleeping.
Here area few ideas to treat these symptoms. Try getting as much rest as you can, accepting help from family and friends, connecting with other new moms, creating time to take care of yourself, and avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, which can make mood swings worse.
Second is postpartum depression which may be mistaken for baby blues at first, but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer and may eventually interfere with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin earlier—during pregnancy—or later, sometimes up to a year after birth. Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Postpartum depression is often treated with psychotherapy (also called talk therapy or mental health counseling), medication, or both. Psychotherapy consists of talking through your concerns with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional. Through therapy, you can find better ways to cope with your feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals, and respond to situations in a positive way. Sometimes family or relationship therapy also helps.
Medications such as antidepressants can also help with the side effects of postpartum depression. If you’re breast-feeding, any medication you take will enter your breast milk. However, most antidepressants can be used during breast-feeding with little risk of side effects for your baby. Work with your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits of specific antidepressants. With appropriate treatment, postpartum depression symptoms usually improve. In some cases, postpartum depression can continue, becoming chronic depression. It’s important to continue treatment after you begin to feel better. Stopping treatment too early may lead to a relapse.
Finally, there is postpartum psychosis, a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery. The signs and symptoms are severe. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Sleep disturbances
- Excessive energy and agitation
- Attempts to harm yourself or your baby.
Postpartum psychosis may lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors and requires immediate treatment, usually in the hospital. Treatment may include a combination of medications—such as antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, and benzodiazepines—to control your signs and symptoms.
Treatment for postpartum psychosis can challenge a mother’s ability to breast-feed. Separation from the baby makes breast-feeding difficult, and some medications used to treat postpartum psychosis aren’t recommended for women who are breast-feeding. If you’re experiencing postpartum psychosis, your doctor can help you work through these challenges.