Postpartum Depression

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Postpartum depression is more than just the "blues" after giving birth. The symptoms include

  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness,
  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • problems bonding with the baby,
  • sadness,
  • possible feelings of wanting to hurt oneself or the baby.

In the case of suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming the baby, postpartum depression is a medical emergency, and medical care should be accessed immediately.

Quick GuidePostpartum Depression: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Postpartum Depression: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Postpartum depression facts

  • Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common problem associated with childbirth.
  • PPD is characterized by depression that a woman experiences within four weeks of delivery.
  • PPD can affect as many as 10% of fathers as well.
  • Biological, psychological, and social factors play roles in predisposing women to develop postpartum depression.
  • There is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has PPD.
  • Treatment options for PPD include illness education, support groups, psychotherapy, and/or medication. Particular care is taken when considering medication given the potential risks of exposing an infant to the medications through breastfeeding.
  • Women who have suffered from postpartum depression are much more likely to have depression again sometime in the future. Children of a mother or father with PPD are at risk for emotional challenges.
  • Intensive nursing intervention can help prevent the development of postpartum depression.

What is postpartum depression? Are there different types of postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression may be the most common problem associated with childbirth. It has been described as afflicting prominent historical figures like author/suffragist Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the 19th century. This illness is characterized by depression that a woman experiences within four weeks of childbirth, affecting about 9-16% of women who give birth. Postpartum depression occurs after one out of every eight deliveries in the United States, affecting about half a million women every year. Postpartum depression is also called major depression with postpartum onset. Delusional thinking after childbirth, called postpartum psychosis, affects about one in every thousand women.

Notably, postpartum depression is not an illness that is exclusive to mothers. Fathers can experience it as well. As with women, symptoms in men can result in fathers having difficulty caring for themselves and for their children when suffering from postpartum depression.

Unfortunately, up to 50% of individuals with postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis are never detected. That can result in devastating outcomes for the patient and family. For example, postpartum psychosis is thought to have been a potential factor in Andrea Yates drowning her five children in 2001 and was explored as a factor in Susan Smith drowning her two sons.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2015

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