Postpartum Depression: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and More

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression also known as postnatal depression mostly affects women after delivery and is rare in men. The probability of its occurrence in new dads is estimated at 1-25%. In women, after childbirth, it is expressed as strong excitements and feelings of happiness coupled with anxiety that lead to clinical depression. Mood changes and crying spells that are short-lived are common in new moms but if the feelings persist for a long time, they could suggest that the woman is suffering from postpartum depression.

Onset and Duration

Postpartum Depression

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the onset of postpartum depression can occur within the first year of delivery. Its symptoms are hard to detect in the six week of postpartum checkups. It is after these six weeks that symptoms of postpartum depression emerge when the mothers are overwhelmed with their roles of parenthood. This is due to the new moms’ resistance to discussing their emotions with their health providers and to put more attention on the growth and development of their newborns. Dr. Scotland stated that pregnant mothers are the center of attention but immediately after delivery, the focus shifts to their babies. She also notes that the risks are high in women with a history of depression but can occur to any new mother.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

Postpartum depression may appear as baby blues within the first two to four weeks after delivery. However persistent feelings of mood swings, sadness, anxiety, insomnia and outbursts of crying spells that lasts longer could indicate postpartum depression. A mom with postpartum depression will find it difficult to nurse her baby and carry out other duties with comfort. There is a tendency of social isolation and decreased* interest in sex accompanied by feelings of guilt and failure. Loss of appetite and thoughts of harming themselves or their babies are common signs in women with postpartum depression.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is mainly caused by hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and after delivery. There is a sudden decrease* in the levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones. Changes in levels of other hormones in your body can leave you with feelings of tiredness or gloominess. Other factors that can affect your moods include changes in blood pressure, blood volume or metabolism. The much attention your newborn demands may deprive you sleep which can leave you with feelings of exhaustion and lack of focus while going about your normal duties.

Risk Factors

The risk of postpartum depression increases* if:

  • You have previous experiences of depression
  • You suffered postpartum depression after a previous delivery
  • You had difficulties like pregnancy complications or a still birth
  • You are experiencing financial hardships
  • There are frequent conflicts between you and your spouse
  • You conceived accidentally
  • You are not receiving any form of emotional support

What is Postpartum Anxiety?

Postpartum anxiety is a mind disturbing experience in women after delivery where one finds it difficult to relax. There are seemingly potential threats and concern about what will happen in a while. You tend to focus so much on the baby and get yourself occupied all the time. Will my baby wake up today? Is my husband safe? Could I have messed? These are some of the questions that will resound in your mind out of worry if you are suffering from postpartum anxiety. You could also have terrifying thoughts in which you will find like you are a different person from the one you used to be. With these scary thoughts, you will find it hard to stay alone with your baby fearing that anything can cause harm.

What are Postpartum Blues?

These are the excitement feelings a new mom experiences a few days after giving birth. They are short-lived and disappear by the tenth day after delivery. Postpartum blues manifest in a woman who becomes gloomy, more irritable, looks confused and frequently cries. Sharing your feelings with your partner or friends and getting adequate rest will assist you in overcoming postpartum blues within a short time. Medical experts attribute these feelings to sudden hormonal changes following childbirth.

What is Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (Postpartum OCD) is a state of mind in new mothers who always sense dangers coming their kids’ way. Other people or different situations appear as the most potential source of threat on their infants. At times, the mothers see themselves as possible dangers to their newborns and keep away from them. Have you thought that you will drown your kid in the basin? Do you tighten your grip when your kid is in your arms for fear of dropping it? These among other worries indicate you suffer postpartum OCD. However, there is a feeling of joy and relief immediately you overcome those imminent threats.

How is it Treated?

The most effective treatment of the postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder is known as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. It is also known as “Exposure and Response Prevention” in which mothers are taught how to respond to the disturbing and unwanted thoughts that they face. In some cases, your psychiatrist may put you on medication to the use of antidepressants. However, it is essential to discuss the dangers of their use with your physician especially if you are breastfeeding.


Participating in Cognitive Behavior Therapy immediately after delivery is one of the most efficient preventive measures you can undertake. To avoid suffering in isolation, it is important to discuss your emotions with your partner or a health provider to ward off the symptoms of the postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. Consider joining a help group or a program that focuses to address issues raised by mothers who suffer from postpartum OCD.

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Expert Author : Joan Raynor (Consumer Health Digest)

Joan Raynor is a health researcher and expert writer specializing in mental health issues where she provides hope and support to persons with treatment-resistant depression and other chronic mood disorders.