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Postpartum Depression

Karen Cannon - LCSW

Karen has been a therapist with the Family Counseling Center for over 25 years. She specializes in treating depression, anxiety, the many causes of stress and a variety of mood disorders. She offers therapy for couples, dating relationships, parenting, adopted children, teens, care of aging parents and grief. Her expertise also includes supporting personal goals for weight loss, health improvement, self-esteem, and habit change.

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Postpartum Depression Overview

You have just had a baby, one of the most important and happiest events in your life. You might wonder what could make a woman happier than a new baby and not understand why you are so sad. You are not alone. As many as 80% of women experience some mood disturbances after pregnancy (“postpartum”). They feel upset, alone, afraid or unloving toward their baby, and guilty for having these feelings.

For most women, the symptoms are mild and go away on their own. But 10-20% of women develop a more disabling mood disorder called postpartum depression.

If you are experiencing these problems, don’t give up hope. Call our postpartum depression experts to set up an appointment to start on the path to recovery. Our Salt Lake City offices can be reached at (801) 261-3500.

The baby blues are a passing state of heightened emotions that occur in about half of women who have recently given birth. This state peaks 3 -5 days after delivery and lasts from several days to 2 weeks. A woman with the blues may cry more easily than usual and may have trouble sleeping or she may feel irritable, sad, and “on edge” emotionally. Because baby blues are so common and expected, they are not considered an illness.

The tendency to develop postpartum blues is unrelated to a previous mental illness and is not caused by stress. However, stress and a history of depression may influence whether the blues go on to become major depression. Postpartum depression is depression that occurs soon after having a baby. Some health professionals call it postpartum non-psychotic depression.

This condition occurs in about 10-20% of women, usually within a few months of delivery. Risk factors include previous major depression, psychosocial stress, inadequate social support, and previous premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Tearfulness
  • Inability to enjoy once-pleasurable activities
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite problems
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of inadequacy as a parent
  • Impaired concentration.

If you experience postpartum depression you may worry about the baby and have fears about harming the infant (although women who have these thoughts rarely act on them).
When a woman with severe postpartum depression becomes suicidal, she may consider killing her infant and young children, not from anger, but from a desire not to abandon them.

Postpartum (puerperal) psychosis is the most serious postpartum disorder. It requires immediate treatment. This condition is rare. A woman with this condition experiences psychotic symptoms within 3 weeks of giving birth. These include false beliefs (delusions), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), or both. This condition is associated with mood disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder or psychosis. Symptoms can include the inability to sleep, agitation, and mood swings.

A woman experiencing psychosis can appear well temporarily, fooling health professionals and caregivers into thinking that she has recovered, but she can continue to be severely depressed and ill even after brief periods of seeming well.

Women who harbor thoughts of hurting their infants are more likely to act on them if they have postpartum psychosis. If untreated postpartum psychotic depression has high likelihood of coming back after the postpartum period and also after the birth of other children.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is an illness that affects women after childbirth. It is very common and occurs in about one out of every six women.

It is common for new mothers to feel emotional for a couple of days following the birth of a new baby. These “baby blues” normally go away after a few days.

When feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, being overwhelmed and not able to cope do not go away but continue, and even worsen, over several weeks, it is most likely postpartum depression.

These symptoms can last for many months to years without treatment from a doctor.

What are the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression?

  • Feeling sad or angry for no apparent reason
  • A feeling of inadequacy and an inability to cope
  • Not being interested in the things that you normally like to do
  • An inability to sleep even when the baby is sleeping
  • Feeling fatigued and having no energy
  • Not being able to concentrate on what you are doing
  • Having difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Feeling agitated or irritable

Who is at Risk for Postpartum Depression?

  • Women who previously suffered from depression or anxiety or who have already had postpartum depression have the greatest risk.
  • Women with little to no help at home to care for the new baby and other children, such as single mothers and women whose partners are not supportive.
  • Women who experience other life-changing events at the same time as the birth of a new baby, such as moving, death in the family, or new job.

How is Postpartum Depression Treated?

Postpartum depression is a disease that may be treated many different ways. Your doctor can talk to you about which approach might be the best for you. Here are some possible courses of treatment:

Counseling with a therapist is very effective. It is also helpful to have the baby’s father in the counseling sessions.

Medication is often needed to make the symptoms better. Antidepressant medications are very effective and generally have few side effects. If you are breast-feeding your baby, your doctor can talk to you about which medications are safest.

Talking with other women who have suffered from postpartum depression or who are suffering from postpartum depression can also help.

What Should You Do if You Think You May Have Postpartum Depression?

Initially, you should contact your health care provider. They can help to evaluate your situation and provide guidance for determining your course of treatment. Be sure to ask if there are specific services or support groups in your area that they recommend, and, if applicable, ask whether there is a patient assistance program for paying for medications.