Postpartum depression (also called PPD) is a kind of depression that some women get after having a baby. PPD is strong feelings of sadness that last for a long time. These feelings can make it hard for you to take care of your baby.
PPD can happen any time after childbirth. It often starts within 1 to 3 weeks of having a baby. It’s a medical condition that needs treatment to get better.
Here’s what you need to know about PPD:
- It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause PPD. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad mother.
- You are not alone. Many women have PPD. In fact, it’s the most common problem for new moms.
- You can get help, and your depression can go away.
Warning Signs of PPD
The new mother’s overwhelming feeling of inadequacy is a warning sign of PPD. There are many other signs such as irritability, loss of concentration, inability to sleep, crying, and loss of appetite. When a mother feels she is incapable of being a good mother and is unable to care for her new baby, she is most likely suffering from postpartum depression.
On the lookout for PPD, physicians assess the presence of risk factors and look for early signs of depression during pregnancy. An early diagnosis can lead to faster treatment, which varies with each case, but usually consists of a combination of counseling and medication.
Can PPD affect your baby?
Yes. PPD can make it hard for you to take care of your baby. If you have PPD, your baby may:
- Have problems bonding with you
- Cry a lot
- Be slow in learning to talk
- Have behavior problems
If you see these signs in your baby, tell your provider. Getting treatment early can help both you and your baby.
How is PPD treated?
If you think you may have PPD, see a health care provider right away. Your provider can be the person who delivered your baby, like an obstetrician, family practice doctor or certified nurse-midwife. Or she could be your primary care provider or your baby’s provider. Or she can be a mental health professional, like a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner.
To find out if you have PPD, your health care 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 answers on the form can help him find out if you have PPD.
Your provider may do tests to see if you have other health problems that may lead to PPD. For example, he may check your thyroid hormones. Low levels of thyroid hormones may lead to PPD.
The sooner you see your provider about PPD, the better. You can get started on treatment to make you feel better so you can take good care of yourself and your baby. These are treatments your provider may suggest:
- Counseling. This also is called therapy. It’s when you talk about your feelings and concerns with a mental health professional. She helps you understand your feelings, solve problems and cope with things in your everyday life.
- Support groups. These are groups of people who meet together or go online to share their feelings and experiences about certain topics. Being part of a support group may help you feel better. Your provider can help you find a PPD support group near you or tell you about online groups.
- Medicine. PPD often is treated with medicine.
Medicines to treat PPD include:
- Antidepressants. These are medicines used to treat many kinds of depression, including PPD. Some have side effects, like having a dry mouth or gaining weight. And some are not safe to take if you’re breastfeeding. Talk to your provider to find out about these medicines and decide if one is right for you.
- Estrogen. This hormone plays an important role in your menstrual cycle and pregnancy. During childbirth, the amount of estrogen in your body drops quickly. To help with PPD, your provider may suggest you wear an estrogen patch on your skin to replace the estrogen your body lost. If you are breastfeeding, check with your provider to see if the patch is safe for you to use. You can pass estrogen to your baby through breast milk.
If you’re taking medicine for PPD:
- Don’t stop taking any medicines for PPD without your provider’s OK. It’s important that you take all your medicine for as long as your provider prescribes it. Some medicines used to treat depression have side effects if you stop taking them too soon. Follow your provider’s instructions about how to take your medicine.
- Some medicines used to treat PPD aren’t safe for your baby if you’re breastfeeding. Talk to your provider to make sure what you’re taking is best for you and your baby.