Postpartum Depression: What is it and How do I Cope?

postpartum stressThe arrival of a new baby in the family cannot help but stir up a number of powerful emotions in the whole family; joy at the arrival of a new baby, anxiety about caring for the new little one, and fear that something will go wrong. But there is another emotion that often accompanies a new baby – depression. For a long time women have spoken about the “baby blues,” a common feeling for new moms after childbirth. The baby blues include weepiness and crying, as well as mood swings in the first few weeks after giving birth. Most often, as the new mother adjusts to her new role, these feelings subside. However, when these feelings last over two weeks it may be more than the notorious baby blues.


Postpartum Depression, or PPD, is usually recognized weeks or months after giving birth. Generally it happens in about 20% of women who have postpartum blues, and affects approximately 10% to 16% of women overall. Postpartum depression is characterized by symptoms of sadness, tearfulness, anxiety and trouble sleeping. However, with true postpartum depression, these feelings become so intense and overwhelming that general everyday chores, including taking care of the baby, feel impossible. Many women who suffer from postpartum depression have very scary feelings of wanting to harm their baby. However, this is very rare. With professional help, nearly all women who experience PPD are able to feel better and again begin to take care of themselves and their baby. Men can also experience postpartum depression. It is most common in men whose partners have PPD symptoms or those under a great deal of stress.


Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression


Some factors can make it more likely that you will experience postpartum depression:


  • A history of depression or anxiety disorders
  • A family history of mental disorder or alcohol abuse
  • A history of severe premenstrual syndrome and PMS symptoms
  • Lack of emotional support
  • Financial or family problems
  • Depression during pregnancy
  • Low self esteem
  • Lack of coping mechanisms to deal with stress
  • Complications during pregnancy
  • Lack of sleep
  • Having a baby with physical or behavioral problems, such as colic.
  • Previous postpartum depression


The causes of postpartum depression are still debated amongst doctors and scientists, however, most believe that it results from hormonal changes after childbirth.


Treatment of PPD


If you are having problems dealing with the changes of new motherhood, and feel like the above symptoms are bringing you down, it’s time to get help. Getting help quickly can be one of the most effective ways to combat postpartum depression. Without treatment, the depression can get worse and make it difficult for you and your baby to properly bond. Start by visiting your primary care physician, who can rule out other medical issues such as thyroid problems and other mental disorder, and can refer you to a mental health professional. Your doctor may also prescribe an antidepressant drug to help you cope with your symptoms and lift the depression.


One of the most common ways to treat postpartum depression is with talk therapy. Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, with a licensed clinician has been found to be as effective as drug therapy. In conjunction, talk therapy and drug therapy is a very effective combination for fighting postpartum depression.


Although you should never try to treat your postpartum depression without medical help, there are a few things you can do at home to prevent and help your symptoms.


  • Physical activity: Physical activity is a proven way to boost mood and fight off depressive symptoms.
  • Good nutrition: Good nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Getting proper nutrition can help your body heal after the rigors of childbirth.
  • Keep a daily routine: Even if you are off of work with your baby for an extended period, it is good to create a daily routine to follow. This will create stability and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs: Alcohol and drugs can seem like a good way to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, these are not treatments for PPD, they simply mask the symptoms and can make your symptoms worse in the long term.
  • Make time for yourself: A new baby can easily take up all of your time. Not making time for yourself can make you feel depressed and anxious.
  • Avoid Isolation: Although you are always with your new baby, you also need adult interaction to feel normal. Make sure to get out of the house and socialize. Joining a postpartum depression support group or a group for new mothers can be especially helpful.