Motherhood is one of the most significant life events for a woman. Giving birth to a child can evoke intense emotions in a woman, ranging from happiness and excitement to anxiety and depression. Postpartum “baby blues” is a common experience among new mothers after childbirth. They typically experience symptoms such as mood swings, crying spells, irritability, anxiety and insomnia. Most of these symptoms begin within the first 2-3 days after delivery and resolve after two weeks.
Research has shown however, that about 1 in 10 new mothers experience a more severe and long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis may also develop after childbirth.
It can be difficult to distinguish between the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, but it’s important to recognise the signs and seek help if necessary.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, as well as risk factors and treatment options. By increasing awareness and understanding of postpartum depression, we can help new mothers get the support they need to recover and thrive.
Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Frequent, excessive crying spells
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or excessive eating
- Insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest or pleasure from engaging in activities that you previously enjoyed
- Fear or guilt for not being a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame or inadequacy
- Reduced ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
If left untreated, postpartum depression may persist for many months.
Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis
Postpartum psychosis symptoms may include:
- Feeling confused and lost
- Having obsessive thoughts about your baby
- Hallucinating and having delusions
- Having sleep problems
- Having too much energy and feeling upset
- Feeling paranoid
- Making attempts to harm yourself or your baby
Seeking immediate treatment for postpartum psychosis is important as this may lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviours.
Factors Contributing to Postpartum Depression
There are many factors that could contribute to postpartum depression such as:
- Hormonal changes
- Family history of postpartum depression and/or previous psychiatric history of depression or anxiety.
- Stress from having to care for a newborn
- Sleep deprivation
- (Perceived) lack of support from friends or family
What to do if you suspect yourself or your loved ones to have postpartum depression?
If you suspect yourself or someone you know to have postpartum depression, it is important to seek medical attention for a proper assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options include:
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy may be helpful in allowing you to express and process difficult emotions, learn strategies to better cope with negative feelings, manage expectations and how to respond to stress or challenges in more positive ways. Psychotherapy is usually preferred due to concerns towards medication.
- Antidepressants: Your healthcare provider may recommend an antidepressant after working with you to weigh the potential risks and benefits of the medication. Most antidepressants used during breastfeeding have little risk of side-effects for your baby.