What You Need to Know About Postpartum Depression – Symptoms and Causes

Having a baby is a big step that can change your life in more ways than one, and not always in the ways that you think it will. In addition to feeling excited and happy about your newborn, you might also be feeling anxious and afraid, even depressed. Experiencing the "baby blues", as depression after childbirth is called, is not an uncommon occurrence and usually goes away after two weeks, but if it is severe and prolonged it can develop into postpartum depression, which is an illness that can be treated with medication and therapy.

 In rare cases, severe postpartum depression develops into postpartum psychosis, which is a very serious disease and includes all the symptoms of postpartum depression in addition to thoughts of hurting yourself or hurting the baby. Learn more about all three types of after birth depression and how to deal with them.

Symptoms of the Baby Blues

Some of the signs of baby blues, which should only last for a few weeks at most, usually include: 

• Mood swings
• Anxiety
• Decreased concentration
• Trouble sleeping
• Sadness
• Irritability
• Crying

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Easy to confuse as baby blues at first, postpartum depression symptoms tend to be more intense and last for a longer time, hindering your ability to deal with your baby and other daily tasks. These symptoms include:

• Loss of appetite
• Insomnia
• Intense irritability and anger
• Overwhelming fatigue
• Lack of joy
• Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy
• Severe mood swings
• Difficulty bonding with the baby
• Withdrawal from family and friends
• Thoughts of harming oneself or the baby

Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis

A serious and rare condition that requires immediate medical and professional attention, postpartum psychosis usually develops within the first two weeks after child birth. The risk of experiencing postpartum psychosis is higher for women who have bipolar disorder. It includes:

• Confusion and disorientation
• Hallucinations and delusions
• Paranoia
• Attempts to harm oneself or the baby

Causes of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is caused by a combination of factors which include physical, emotional and lifestyle aspects.

 Physical Changes: Some of the physical changes that can lead to postpartum depression include a dramatic drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, a sharp decrease in the level of hormones produced by the thyroid gland, as well as changes in blood pressure, the immune system and metabolism.

• Emotional Factors: Irritability and stress can develop quickly when you're sleep deprived and feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety might even develop if you're having trouble dealing with some aspects of caring for your baby. Feeling unattractive, confused and no longer in control of your own life can also be key contributors to postpartum depression.

 Lifestyle Influences: Financial problems, family disputes, and lack of support from your partner and friends or relatives can all leave you feeling overwhelmed and resentful, which may lead to postpartum depression. 

Risk Factors

The likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression is greater for women who:

• Are prone to non-pregnancy related depression
• Experience severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
• Have a difficult or very stressful marriage or relationship
• Have few family members or friends supporting them
• Have gone through stressful life events during pregnancy or after childbirth

When to Seek Medical Advice

Don't feel embarrassed or guilty about your condition; postpartum depression is not something you intentionally develop, nor can you control the way you feel. It is a medical illness and hence out of your hands. If you're feeling depressed, talk to your doctor as soon as possible to determine whether it's a simple case of the baby blues or something more serious, as early medical intervention can speed up your recovery. If you think you have postpartum psychosis, go to your doctor immediately; waiting might result in life-threatening behavior.