Parenthood is an amazing journey. But, for all women, pregnancy is a crucial time to prioritize mental health. Of all medical complications affecting women during pregnancy and after birth, postpartum, peripartum, or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the most common. In California, one in five women suffers from depression, anxiety, or both while pregnant or after giving birth.
If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, you’re not alone. There are steps you can take to feel better. In this article, we’ll take a look at what postpartum depression is, what causes it, and what you can do to start feeling like yourself again.
What is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a form of clinical depression that develops following a pregnancy. Recently, however, research has shown that pregnancy-related depression can actually occur before, during, and after delivery. For this reason, clinicians now usually refer to this type of depression as “peripartum depression.”
Clinically speaking, peripartum depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder that is characterized by onset during pregnancy or in the year following childbirth. Peripartum or postpartum depression is a serious mental illness that can have a profound impact on the mother’s quality of life, as well as her ability to properly care for her child.
Postpartum depression is different than the “baby blues.” Baby blues is a common condition experienced by many new mothers in the days and weeks following childbirth. Characterized by mood swings, tearfulness, anxiety, and irritability, the baby blues are much less severe than postpartum depression. Although baby blues can be distressing, it is generally a mild and temporary condition that does not require treatment. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, it may be a sign of a more serious condition such as developing postpartum depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:
- Persistent sadness or emptiness
- Mild or severe mood swings
- Loss of interest in activities that used to bring joy
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Irritability or anger
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Negative feelings toward the baby
- Lack of concern for yourself or the baby
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of postpartum depression, it’s important to talk to a doctor or seek help from a professional. Postpartum depression treated early can help women avoid severe postpartum depression and many of the most severe symptoms of postpartum depression.
Left untreated, postpartum depression can have serious consequences for both mother and child. Maternal mood and anxiety symptoms around the time of birth have been associated with an increased risk of harmful maternal health behaviors including smoking, substance use, poor nutrition, and avoidance of obstetric care. Additionally, untreated postpartum mental disorders have also been associated with adverse health outcomes including preeclampsia, preterm delivery, low birth weight, and hypertension.
What Causes Peripartum Depression?
It’s not entirely clear what causes peripartum depression. But there are some factors that may play a role, including:
- Hormonal changes: After childbirth, there is a significant drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body. The dramatic shift in hormones during pregnancy and after delivery can trigger depression in some women. These hormones play a critical role in regulating mood, and the sudden drop in their levels can trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression.
- Genetics: Research suggests that genetics play a role in the development of the condition. If you have a personal or family history of depression or bipolar disorder, you may be more likely to experience postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.
- Stress: The physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, giving birth, and early motherhood can be overwhelming. Add in the stress of caring for a newborn, and it’s no wonder so many women feel overwhelmed.
- Sleep deprivation: Lack of sleep is common during pregnancy and the first few months after delivery. Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, and new mothers who are not getting enough sleep are at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression.
What Risk Factors Make a Woman More Likely To Experience Postpartum Depression?
Other factors that can contribute to postpartum depression include a history of depression or anxiety, a difficult childbirth experience, and a lack of social support. Women who have experienced a previous episode of postpartum depression are also at a higher risk of developing the condition with subsequent pregnancies.
Factors that make pregnant and postpartum women more likely to experience perinatal depression include:
- Having a history of depression or anxiety
- Experiencing stressful life events during pregnancy or after delivery
- Having a lack of social support
- Feeling unable to bond with your baby
- Having a baby with health problems
- Having a history of postpartum depression
If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to be extra vigilant in monitoring your mental health during and after pregnancy.
What Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression Are Safe?
Left untreated, postpartum depression can have serious consequences on the health of the mother, the baby, and the entire family. Peripartum depression may also negatively influence mother-infant bonding, child development, and child behavior. So, if you’re struggling with any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to seek professional help to undergo a postpartum depression screening, get your postpartum depression diagnosed, and begin appropriate treatment.
Psychiatrists largely treat postpartum depression the same way that they treat depression. However, many women are understandably concerned about the safety of certain postpartum depression treatments. Although selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and other types of antidepressant medications are sometimes prescribed for postpartum depression, research reports 70–80% of pregnant women prefer not to take antidepressants.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is considered the primary recommended treatment for treating postpartum depression. Psychotherapy is a great option for women who want to avoid taking medication during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
However, for patients with moderate to severe depressive symptoms, psychotherapy may not be sufficient, and your mental health provider may recommend a different or additional treatment.
One increasingly popular treatment option for postpartum depression is TMS therapy. TMS therapy, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, therapy involves repeated sessions of gentle magnetic pulses to the area of the brain responsible for mood. Research supports TMS therapy as a safe and effective treatment for pregnant women with major depressive disorder.
TMS therapy is rapidly becoming a preferred method of treatment for depression during and after pregnancy because it is a non-drug, non-invasive therapy that will not produce side effects for the mother or the baby. The treatment is completely non-invasive; patients remain awake and alert throughout the entire treatment. Patients are able to drive themselves to work or home immediately following the treatment session.
A study published by the Washington University School of Medicine chronicled 9 antidepressant-free women suffering from postpartum depression, 8 out of them achieved remission of symptoms after 4 weeks of repetitive TMS Therapy. Additionally, results showed a significant increase in mother-baby bonding.
It’s important to work with a mental health professional to find the treatment that’s right for you. With the right help, you can overcome peripartum depression.
What Are The Consequences Of Untreated Peripartum Depression?
Untreated peripartum depression can have serious consequences for both mother and child. It can lead to:
If peripartum depression is left untreated, it can develop into postpartum depression. This is a more severe form of depression that can last for months or longer after delivery.
Poor Bonding with Your Baby
Depression can make it difficult to bond with your baby. This can lead to attachment issues and problems with parenting down the road.
Depression can make it hard to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. This can lead to further health problems down the road.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental health disorder that can affect women in the weeks or months following childbirth and is closely related to postpartum depression. It is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include confusion, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, rapid mood swings, extreme agitation or anxiety, and difficulty sleeping or eating. Women with postpartum psychosis may also experience thoughts of harming themselves or their babies.
One of the best things you can do as a mother is to take care of yourself so that you can be there for your baby. If you think you might be struggling with peripartum depression, please reach out for help. There are many resources available to you, and treatment can make a world of difference.
5 Holistic Coping Mechanisms You Can Try At Home
As a new mother, it’s important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Here are some holistic coping mechanisms that can help you to manage perinatal depression:
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential for your mental and physical health. Be sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, if possible. If your baby does not yet sleep through the night, be sure to take naps when you can. Ideally, you should try to sleep while your baby is sleeping.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating nutritious foods will help to improve your energy levels and mood. Be sure to eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can be helpful to avoid processed foods and sugar as much as possible.
Some breastfeeding-friendly foods include:
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting properties. Taking a brisk walk or participating in another form of moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day can help to improve your mental state.
Spend Time Outside
Getting some fresh air and vitamin D can help to improve your mood. Spend at least 20 minutes outside each day, in blue or green spaces, if possible.
Practice Meditation or Mindfulness
Whether or not you have one or more mood disorders, mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety. There are many free resources available online to help you get started with meditation. For example, the app Headspace offers a 10-day introductory course to meditation.
It’s also essential to develop a support system of family and friends who can help you through this struggle with perinatal depression. If you don’t have close family or friends nearby, there are many online support groups for mothers with peripartum depression.
These are just a few of the many holistic coping mechanisms that can help you to manage peripartum depression. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine or dietary supplement.
When To Seek Help
Emotional and mental health are critically important to enjoying a healthy pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby. Diagnosis and treatment of depression early is vital to the long-term health of both mother, baby, and family. During pregnancy, early intervention and treatment for depression will also reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression.
If you are struggling with peripartum depression, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Treatment can make a world of difference. You should seek help if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Sadness or depression that does not go away
- Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability or anger
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby
If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, call 911.
When it comes to coping with peripartum depression, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. This is a common condition that is highly treatable. You should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns and ask for a mental health screening at your next appointment to get started with safe, effective treatment. Depression is treatable, and it’s essential for expectant and new mothers to get help. If you’re concerned about the use of antidepressant medications while pregnant, it’s helpful to know that there are other alternative depression treatments available, such as TMS therapy.