Postpartum Depression

Many people expect that the birth of a child will be a joyous occasion, but when the time comes, they may have mixed feelings. In fact, women commonly experience the “baby blues” within the first week after delivery. These rapid mood swings–often including sadness, anxiety, and irritability–usually clear up within a few weeks without treatment.

While the baby blues don’t require treatment, some of the things that mothers can do to get through this period more easily are:

  • Get enough rest. This can be a real challenge with an infant in the home, so it pays to nap when you can.
  • Get all the help you can with household responsibilities so you can rest. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
  • Get lots of emotional support, especially from other mothers. Consider joining a support group for new parents.

About ten percent of new mothers develop a more serious mood disorder known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can occur anytime in the first year after a delivery or miscarriage, and may last up to a year if untreated. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad and tearful
  • Having no energy
  • Inability to sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Overconcern about, or lack of interest in, the baby
  • Loss of interest in sex and other activities

Postpartum depression, like other forms of depression, can be treated quite effectively with psychotherapy, medication, and/or support groups.

Postpartum psychosis, a severe disorder occurring in only one in a thousand new mothers, may appear suddenly in the weeks after delivery, and is marked by hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre behavior. Since there can be a risk of violent behavior, mothers with these symptoms are advised to seek medical attention immediately. Fortunately, this condition is quite rare.

Parenthood brings many new demands, and sometimes extra assistance is needed to manage the transition. Contact your medical doctor if you have questions about postpartum reactions.