9 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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It is perfectly normal for women to feel stressed, lonely, anxious, or sad following their baby’s birth. Some may feel tired or weep a little more than usual to relieve the stress and pressure building up inside their minds and bodies. But for one in every seven women, these baby blues may take a much more severe and intense form called postpartum depression (PPD).

But what is postpartum depression capable of? The condition can make any new mother feel emotionless, sad, and empty from the inside. It can also cause rapid mood swings and exhaustion and may induce a sense of hopelessness, persisting for a long time after giving birth.

Postpartum depression is a serious mental health disorder that no one should take lightly. If you or someone you know is going through this phase, it is critical to seek medical help as soon as possible to avoid developing unnecessary complications.

Many mothers feel moody, exhausted, sad, or empty soon after giving birth. Known as baby blues, the condition is usually mild and settles on its own in a few days or weeks. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, goes well beyond this condition, lasting for weeks after birth. The symptoms of PPD can be severe enough to interfere with the mother’s ability to function and care for herself and her baby. Most symptoms of PPD vary from one person to another and even from day to day. While these symptoms can develop any time after giving birth, most mothers start experiencing them within one to three weeks.

Postpartum depression can easily make anyone feel disconnected from their baby. Such mothers may feel they do not love their babies as they should and experience guilt because of this lack of attachment. Following are some other postpartum symptoms not to ignore at any cost:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Experiencing sadness
  • Excessive crying
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Failure to develop an interest or attachment with the baby
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Feeling guilty or worthless for being a bad mother
  • Anxiety
  • Altered relationship with food
  • Experiencing headaches, body pains, or stomach problems

Are You at Risk of Postpartum Depression?

Certain factors make you more vulnerable to developing PPD than others. Known as risk factors, the presence of these circumstances does not mean you will develop this type of depression for sure, but it may increase your chances. Some of the common risk factors for PPD include the following:

  • You have a history of depression during pregnancy or have been diagnosed with major depression or another type of mental health issue in the past
  • You have a positive family history of depression or any other mental health disorder
  • You have been exposed to physical abuse, sexual assaults, or domestic violence in the past
  • You are currently going through a stressful time in life, for example, being separated from your partner or experiencing a recent bereavement.
  • You have no job, little education, low income, or little to no support from family and friends.
  • Your pregnancy was unwanted or unplanned
  • You are a teenage mother (younger than 19 years)
  • You smoke, drink alcohol, or use recreational drugs
  • You had complications during pregnancy, such as congenital disabilities in the baby, previous pregnancy losses, or premature birth.
  • You suffer from pre-gestational diabetes, i.e., you had it long before you got pregnant
  • You find it difficult to care for your baby or breastfeed them

If you feel like you have any one or more of the risk factors mentioned above, get in touch with a healthcare provider. The healthcare provider will screen you for PPD at every postpartum care checkup by asking you specific questions about your mood and risk factors. If screening results are positive, the provider can help you get treatment.

If you think you or someone you love is experiencing the symptoms of PPD, it is imperative to encourage them to seek help from

  • Your prenatal care provider who looked after your medical needs during pregnancy
  • Your primary care provider who gives you general medical care
  • A mental health provider, for example, a psychiatrist, social worker, psychologist, therapist, or a counselor
  • Your infant’s healthcare provider

To confirm if you are suffering from PPD, the healthcare provider will ask a few questions about how you are feeling. These questions are to assess if your feelings are causing problems with how you take care of yourself and your baby. Many experts also require their patients to fill out a form called a depression screening questionnaire and use it to determine a positive or negative diagnosis for PPD.

To find out if you have PPD, your provider asks you questions about how you’re feeling. He wants to know if your feelings are causing problems in how you care for yourself and your baby. He may ask you to fill out a form called a depression screening questionnaire. Your form answers can help him determine if you have PPD.

The sooner you consult a healthcare provider about PPD, the sooner you can begin treatment and recover: Treatment for this type of depression typically includes:

  • Counseling sessions using evidence-based therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Support groups that provide a platform to all mothers with PPD to meet and know each other and share their individual experiences and feelings
  • Medicine, such as antidepressants and estrogen support supplements to curb the feelings of sadness and address hormonal issues leading to PPD, respectively

If you are wondering how to help a friend with postpartum depression, know that constant reassurance with the right choice of words goes a long way. Here are a few things to say to someone struggling with PPD to make them feel supported and loved.

This will pass

People struggling with depression, including PPD, often believe their pain will last forever. The pain associated with postpartum depression is particularly hurtful as it stems from the fear and guilt of being a bad mother to a newborn. Every mother fighting this depression constantly worries that she is not giving her the love and time her child deserves and may feel trapped in a prison of sadness with no way out. In such circumstances, let her know that what she is experiencing is not her personality or destiny. PPD is a real medical disorder with temporary symptoms that she will eventually overcome and become even stronger than she already is. 

You’re a good mom

A mother with PPD is in a space where she is totally lost, with no connection to herself, her body, her life, and even her baby. Make things easier for her by letting her know she is a good mother.  Remind her that her baby is healthy, beautiful, smiling, and safe, and even if she is taking some time away from her newborn, she is doing what is best for both of them.

You have got this

All new mothers with postpartum depression are fearful of how motherhood will treat them. Many believe they cannot do it, even when it comes to the smallest tasks. Walking up and feeding the baby, bathing them, or changing their diapers may seem overwhelmingly impossible. Remind such a mother that no matter how hard it becomes, she is still doing it.

Fear is just another form of love

Many new mothers experience severe postpartum depression anger, and fear, sometimes to a debilitating extent. The overwhelming new job of becoming a mother with PPD can make them feel something is wrong with them. They constantly undermine themselves and believe other mothers are doing a far better job than them. If you know someone going through this phase, let them know that their fears and anger about not being a good mother are a good sign. These feelings indicate how they care for their baby, and these feelings only seem disproportionate because of the hormonal imbalance they are currently going through. None of this is their fault.

You’re not alone

Statistics suggest that every one in seven women experience postpartum depression after giving birth. Such women may feel alone and on their own during their journey, sometimes because of the stigma associated with this psychiatric issue. So if you know a new mother going through this phase, let them know that they are not alone in their journey. Encourage them to seek help from a healthcare professional and guide them about support groups where they can open up about their feelings and emotions without judgment.

I’ll be right here if you need me

Whenever possible, try your best to help a new mother with postpartum depression in every way possible. If it’s possible to visit her, get her out of the house for a walk in the neighborhood, do the grocery run, or agree to take care of her child to give her some rest. These little activities may seem trivial to you, but for someone with PPD, they can relieve a huge burden and pressure.

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