Understanding Postpartum Depression

* Adapted from the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health Vol 47, No. 5, Sept/Oct 2002

Bringing home a new baby is a major event, and while it is often a joyful time you may find your emotions and moods are not what you expected. As many as 3 out of 4 women experience short mood swings, tearfulness, or irritability during the first week after birth. These symptoms may worsen when you are tired or anxious. If you are not sleeping, or you are becoming increasingly upset, you should talk with your health care provider.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression may be indicated by the following symptoms:

  • Feeling like a failure as a mother
  • Feelings of panic
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fear that you will hurt yourself or your baby
  • Feeling guilty
  • Feelings of anxiousness and insecurity
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying a lot
  • Feeling like you are not normal or real anymore
  • Difficulty sleeping – you can’t sleep, even when the baby is sleeping
  • Angry; feeling like you might explode
  • Feeling lonely
  • Can’t make decisions
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Thinking the baby might be better off without you

If you have any of these symptoms, please don’t wait – call your health care provider.

Postpartum Psychosis

A very small number of women will experience a more severe postpartum reaction in which they will lose touch with reality. Those who develop postpartum psychosis may see or hear things that do not exist, or they may exhibit strange and potentially dangerous behavior. This is an emergency, and help must be sought immediately for women experiencing these symptoms.

Who Will Experience Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is caused by a combination of factors, and can affect women from all walks of life. Hormone changes after childbirth, a self or family history of depression, and stressful life events are just some of the factors that contribute to postpartum depression. Childbirth is a major life event, and it can trigger sources of trauma from the past. If you think any of these risks might apply to you, you should talk to you health care provider before your labor and birth.

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