Peripartum depression, also known as postpartum depression (PPD), is a serious and often debilitating mood disorder that can affect fathers as well as mothers during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. The good news is that it a treatable mental illness.
Recent studies report that approximately 19.3% or almost one in five women in the U.S. experience peripartum depression. Parents are at highest risk for depression during the first year after the birth of their child.
It typically manifests within the first few weeks or month following childbirth but can begin during pregnancy. The exact cause is multifactorial involving a complex interplay between biological, psychological and environmental factors. The consequences are far-reaching for the mother, the infant and the family.
Untreated peripartum depression primarily impacts new mothers and has profound implications for both maternal and infant health. It can cause bonding issues and contribute to feeding and sleeping problems for baby. In the long term, it can impair cognitive, emotional, developmental and verbal and social skills.
Understanding the risk factors associated with peripartum depression is crucial for early identification and intervention. While any new mother can develop this condition, certain factors increase the likelihood of its occurrence. These risk factors include a history of depression or anxiety, a lack of social support, stressful life events, financial difficulties, and a complicated or traumatic childbirth experience. Additionally, studies report that hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and after childbirth have a strong effect on mood and may also contribute to the development of peripartum depression.
Common symptoms of peripartum depression include:
- persistent sadness or a depressed mood
- feelings of hopelessness
- changes in appetite and weight
- excessive guilt or feeling worthless or shame
- difficulty concentrating
- thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby
- changes in sleep patterns
- loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, and
- fatigue or loss of energy which can be particularly challenging for new mothers who are already coping with the demands of caring for an infant.
Fathers can also experience symptoms of peripartum depression such as changes in eating or sleeping, anger, irritability and resentment toward the child. Some estimates report about 10% of fathers experience depression after the birth of their child.
It is essential to differentiate peripartum depression from the “baby blues,” a milder and more transient emotional state that affects many new mothers in the first few days after childbirth. Up to 70% of new mothers experience the baby blues and it does not interfere with daily activities and does not require medical attention. The symptoms of baby blues can include crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness and anxiety that last a week or two.
Diagnosing peripartum depression requires a comprehensive assessment by a Mercie Health medical professional, typically a psychiatrist or psychologist. The key distinction lies in the duration and severity of symptoms. Peripartum depression symptoms can last for weeks to months and significantly impair a woman’s emotional and physical functioning. To receive a diagnosis symptoms must begin during pregnancy or within four weeks after delivery.
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral therapy or CBT or interpersonal therapy are common approaches that help individuals identify and address negative thought patterns, improve relationships and develop effective coping strategies.
- Medication: When psychotherapy is insufficient alone, medication can be considered and will include antidepressants which will be carefully prescribed considering potential risks and benefits and effects on breast feeding.
- Lifestyle modifications: This includes self-care practices.
- Support group: Participating in support groups can help.
When you or a loved one suffers with depression related to pregnancy or after delivery, it is important to get help quickly. Mercie Health is a psychiatric and wellness clinic in Katy, Texas. We take a humane and personalized approach to treating mental health disorders. Stigma is associated with mental health disorders and can keep a person from seeking help. Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. You will always be treated with respect and dignity at Mercie Health. Contact us to schedule a consultation to learn more about peripartum depression, receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options.
At a Glance
Dr. Sylvia Udokoro Nwakanma
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
- Double Board Certified in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C)
- SAMSHA Certified Addictions Nurse Practitioner
- Learn more