Mood swings, sudden crying spells, sadness. That may not be how you expected to feel after having a baby. Many women, though, find the few weeks following birth rife with emotions—otherwise known as the baby blues. For some, these feelings can plummet into postpartum depression (PDD), a condition that may be more common than previously thought.
Aptly named, PDD is depression that affects a woman after she has a baby. Symptoms often emerge during the first few weeks. But a woman is vulnerable anytime within the first year after giving birth.
Unlike the baby blues, PDD lingers beyond several days. The symptoms are also more intense. They may include:
Feelings of sadness, restlessness, anxiety, or hopelessness
Trouble concentrating or remembering
Changes in eating or sleeping habits
Loss of interest in favorite activities
Detachment from family and friends
Persistent physical problems, such as headaches or an upset stomach
Experts say that one out of 10 women will get PDD. A recent study in JAMA Psychiatry suggests many more may actually be struggling with the condition. Researchers screened nearly 10,000 women for PDD four to six weeks after giving birth. They found that nearly one out of seven exhibited symptoms of the illness. Those most likely to suffer from it: younger women, African-Americans, and single moms.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through many changes. In particular, hormone levels climb. After birth, they quickly go back to normal levels. This natural fluctuation may be partly to blame for PDD. Experts have also linked PDD with thyroid problems.
All pregnant women are at risk for PDD. But you are more likely to develop it if you or someone in your family has had depression. Other potential causes: a lack of social support, negative feelings about pregnancy, high levels of stress, and marital or financial problems.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of PDD, seek help immediately. Left untreated, PDD can seriously harm a mother’s health. She may not eat well or lack the energy to care for her child. She may even start to think about hurting herself or her baby. Experts have also noted behavioral problems and developmental delays in infants whose mothers have PDD.
Anxiety may be even more common than depression after pregnancy. One recent study compared both in a group of more than 1,100 new mothers. Twice as many women felt anxious rather than depressed two weeks, two months, and six months after birth.
Anxiety symptoms include constant worrying, negative expectations, racing thoughts, and problems sleeping and eating. Anxiety can also manifest physically with nausea, dizziness, and hot flashes. In severe cases, it can cause a panic attack, spurring heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
If you feel anxious during or after pregnancy, talk with your doctor. To help ease your emotions, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and strive for adequate sleep. Also try to relax. Meditation or yoga may work. Always ask for help if you feel overwhelmed.
Could you or a loved one have PPD? Take this assessment to find out.
American Academy of Family Physicians – Postpartum Depression
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health – Depression During and After Pregnancy