- Postpartum Period Length
- Postpartum vs. Peripartum
- Support Groups
- More Info
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common problem associated with childbirth. Peripartum depression is depression that a woman experiences during pregnancy or within four weeks of giving birth. Postpartum depression is medically considered a subset of peripartum depression. 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. New moms who have suffered from peripartum depression are much more likely to have a depression again sometime in the future. Intensive nursing intervention can help prevent the development of peripartum depression. Symptoms of postpartum depression begin either during pregnancy or within four weeks after having a baby. Several treatments include educational programs, support groups, psychotherapies, and medications.
How long is the postpartum period?
The first six weeks after giving birth is called the postpartum period. During the postpartum period, the mother experiences several changes including physical and emotional changes.
This can be a difficult time for the woman, especially if it is her first child. There can be additional stress for the mother, such as tackling breastfeeding, lack of sleep because of the baby's nighttime waking, as well as the demands of caring for her new baby.
At this time, the mother needs support from her partner, family, and friends. The mother's physical and mental health will need attention, and her doctor can help ease some of the pain, discomfort, and other physical and mental changes during the postpartum period.
The time taken to recover after childbirth can vary with each woman. It can take longer for a first-time mother to recover. A woman may usually take longer to recover after Cesarean delivery compared to vaginal delivery. Complete recovery after childbirth can take six months to a year, sometimes even longer.
Postpartum depression vs. peripartum depression
Postpartum depression, now included in the description of depression with peripartum onset (during pregnancy or within a month after giving birth), may be the most common problem associated with childbirth. This illness is characterized by depression that a woman experiences either during pregnancy or within four weeks of giving birth, affecting about 3%-6% of women who give birth, up to 20% when only women with postpartum depression, rather than including those who are depressed during the pregnancy are counted. Peripartum depression, as well as postpartum anxiety, occurs after one out of every eight deliveries in the United States, affecting about half a million women every year. Peripartum depression is also called major depression with peripartum onset. Delusional thinking after childbirth, called postpartum psychosis, affects about one in every 500 to 1,000 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 in 1994.
What are causes and risk factors for postpartum depression?
Similar to many other mental health conditions, there is thought to be a genetic vulnerability to developing postpartum depression, in that people who have family members who have had this or any other mental illness have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression compared with people who have no such family history.
Rapid changes in reproductive hormone levels (like estrogen and progesterone) that occur during pregnancy and after delivery are thought to be biological factors in the development of this condition. People with any history of depression, anxiety, alcohol, or other substance use disorders prior to the pregnancy are at risk for developing depression during the pregnancy or within a few weeks after delivery. Examples of specific illnesses that have been associated with being associated with the potential to develop postpartum depression include any form of major depression, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Interestingly, men are also known to experience changes in a number of hormonal changes during the peripartum period that can contribute to the development of PPD. Also, the stress of any medical complications as a result of the pregnancy or delivery, as well as the stress that is inherent in caring for a newborn are considerable factors.
Further risk factors for developing postpartum depression include age younger than 20 years, low self-esteem, or life stressors like low socioeconomic status, a lack of social support before and after the birth of the baby, and marital problems, including any history of intimate partner violence.
What are postpartum depression symptoms?
Symptoms of postpartum depression begin either during pregnancy or within four weeks after having a baby and include the following:
- Feelings of profound sadness, emptiness, emotional numbness, irritability, or anger
- A tendency to withdraw from relationships with family, and friends, or from activities that are usually pleasurable for the PPD sufferer
- Constant fatigue or tiredness, difficulty sleeping, overeating, or loss of appetite
- A strong sense of failure or inadequacy
- Intense concern and anxiety about the baby or a lack of interest in the baby
- Thoughts about suicide or fears of harming the baby
Postpartum psychosis occurs much more rarely and is thought to be a severe form of postpartum depression. Symptoms of that disorder include the following:
- After Salmonella Cases Double in a Week, Cantaloupe Recall Expanded
- Soccer 'Heading' Tied to Declines in Brain Function
- Smoking Tobacco Plus Weed Greatly Raises Odds for Emphysema
- COVID Vaccines Curbed Pandemic-Linked Surge in Preemie Births
- Could a 'Brain Coach' Help Folks at Higher Risk for Alzheimer's?
- More Health News »
How is postpartum depression diagnosed?
There is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has PPD. Therefore, healthcare providers diagnose this disorder by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental health history. Patients tend to benefit when the health care provider takes into account their client's entire life and background. This includes, but is not limited to, the person's gender, sexual orientation, cultural, religious, ethnic background, and socioeconomic status. The health care professional will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual's primary care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person's general health and as part of screening the individual for medical conditions that might contribute to mental health symptoms.
Postpartum depression must be distinguished from what is commonly called the postpartum blues or "baby blues," which tend to occur in most new mothers. In the brief mood problem of baby blues, symptoms like crying, sadness, irritability, anxiety, and confusion can occur. In contrast to the symptoms of PPD, the symptoms of the baby blues tend to occur within a few days postpartum, peaking around the fourth day after delivery, resolving by the tenth day, and do not tend to affect the individual's ability to function.
Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency that requires immediate intervention because of the danger that the sufferer might kill their baby or themselves. Postpartum psychosis usually begins within the first two weeks after delivery. Symptoms of this disorder tend to involve extremely disorganized thinking, bizarre behavior, unusual hallucinations, and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is often a symptom of bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression.
What are the treatments for postpartum depression?
Educational programs and support groups
Treatment of postpartum depression in men and women is similar. Both mothers and fathers with this condition have been found to greatly benefit from being educated about the illness, as well as from the support of other parents who have been in this position.
Psychotherapy ("talk therapy") involves working with a trained therapist to determine methods to solve problems and cope with all forms of depression, including postpartum depression. It can be a powerful intervention and may produce positive biochemical changes in the brain. This is a particularly important alternative to treatment with medication in women who are breastfeeding. In general, these therapies take weeks to months to complete. More intense counseling may be needed for longer when treating very severe depression or other psychiatric symptoms.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This helps to alleviate depressive symptoms and helps the person with PPD develop more effective skills for coping with social and interpersonal relationships. IPT employs two strategies to achieve these goals.
- The first is education about the nature of depression. The therapist will emphasize that depression is a common illness and that most people can expect to get better with treatment.
- The second is defining specific problems (such as childcare pressures or interpersonal conflicts). After the problems are defined, the therapist can help set realistic goals for solving these problems. Together, the individual with PPD and his or her therapist will use various treatment techniques to reach these goals.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This helps to alleviate depression and reduce the likelihood it will return by helping the PPD sufferer change his or her way of thinking. In CBT, the therapist uses three techniques to accomplish these goals.
- Didactic component: This phase helps to set up positive expectations for therapy and promote cooperation.
- Cognitive component: This helps to identify the thoughts and assumptions that influence behaviors, particularly those that may predispose the person with PPD to be depressed.
- Behavioral component: This employs behavior-modification techniques to teach the individual with PPD more effective strategies for dealing with problems.
Medication therapy for postpartum depression usually involves the use of antidepressant medication. The major types of antidepressant medication are
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),
- serotonin/norepinephrine/dopamine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs),
- tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
SSRI medications affect levels of serotonin in the brain. For many prescribing doctors, these medications are the first choice because of the high level of effectiveness and general safety of this group. People with depression or anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum (the two together are known as the perinatal period) should consult with their doctor about safety issues for the developing fetus than the new baby. That issue should also be addressed with the baby's pediatrician for babies who receive breast milk. Examples of antidepressants are listed here.
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Vilazodone (Viibryd)
- Vortioxetine (Trintellix)
SNRIs and NDRs
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- Mirtazapine (Remeron)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- Levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
TCAs are sometimes prescribed in severe cases of depression or when SSRIs or SNRIs are ineffective. These medications affect a number of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), especially epinephrine and norepinephrine (also called adrenaline and noradrenaline, respectively). Examples include
- amitriptyline (Elavil),
- clomipramine (Anafranil),
- desipramine (Norpramin),
- doxepin (Adapin),
- imipramine (Tofranil), and
- nortriptyline (Pamelor).
About two-thirds of people who take antidepressant medications improve. It may take anywhere from one to six weeks of taking medication at its effective dose to notice mood improvement. It is, therefore, important not to stop taking the medication because benefits may not be seen immediately. Atypical neuroleptic medications are often prescribed in addition to a mood-stabilizer medication in people with severe postpartum depression or who have postpartum psychosis. Examples of atypical neuroleptics include
- aripiprazole (Abilify),
- olanzapine (Zyprexa),
- paliperidone (Invega),
- quetiapine (Seroquel),
- risperidone (Risperdal),
- ziprasidone (Geodon),
- asenapine (Saphris),
- iloperidone (Fanapt),
- paliperidone (Invega),
- lurasidone (Latuda), and
- brexpiprazole (Rexulti).
Non-neuroleptic mood-stabilizer medications are also sometimes used with neuroleptic medication to treat people with postpartum psychosis because the bipolar disorder may also be present in some patients. Examples of non-neuroleptic mood stabilizers include
- lithium (Lithium Carbonate, Lithium Citrate),
- divalproex sodium (Depakote),
- carbamazepine (Tegretol), and
- lamotrigine (Lamictal).
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), previously called electroshock therapy or shock treatment, is a therapy that addresses severe psychiatric symptoms. It involves inducing seizures in people by placing electrodes on the person's head, usually on what corresponds to one side of the brain. The treatment occurs while the person is fully sedated to avoid any distress associated with having seizures. Healthcare professionals administer treatments up to three times per week for at least one week, continuing until symptoms have significantly improved. Side effects usually include confusion and memory loss immediately after the procedure, the latter of which may take weeks to resolve.
Also effective in treating many people with severe depression, psychosis, and the mood swings associated with manic depressive (bipolar disorder) episodes in general, ECT is effective in treating postpartum psychosis and severe forms of postpartum depression. There is research that indicates a higher response of people with depression or psychosis during the postpartum period compared with those symptoms outside of the postpartum period.
What is the prognosis of postpartum depression?
Women who have suffered from postpartum depression are much more likely to have a depression again sometime in the future. They are also at risk for poor diet and low compliance with medical recommendations, as well as having more financial problems, being the victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as for developing tobacco or other substance abuse. Children of mothers with PPD are at risk for medical and emotional challenges as a result of problematic relationships with their mothers and of receiving compromised care from their mothers.
Is it possible to prevent postpartum depression?
Intensive nursing intervention in the form of visits to new mothers by a nurse can help prevent the development of postpartum depression, but there is no definitive way to prevent its development. Screening women before they become pregnant (pre-pregnancy), screening parents for the early signs and gathering history about any family members who have suffered from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health problem are other important tools that may help prevent the progression of minor symptoms to a full-blown illness.
Where can people get support for postpartum depression?
Baby Blues Connection
Toll free: 866-616-3752
Online Postpartum Depression Support Group
Email: [email protected]
Postpartum Education for Parents
PO Box 261
Santa Barbara, CA 93116
Email: [email protected]
PEP Warmline: 805-564-3888
Our free 24-hour service provides confidential one-on-one support from trained volunteers who are parents just like you.
Postpartum Stress Center
Postpartum Support International
Email: [email protected]
Where can people get more information about postpartum depression?
Jennifer Mudd Houghtaling Postpartum Depression Foundation
200 E. Delaware Apt. 3D
Chicago, IL 60611
Email: [email protected]
Kids Health -- Postpartum Depression and Caring for Your Baby
Postpartum Education for Parents
Womenshealth.gov helpline (English and Spanish)
Hours: Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., EST. (closed on federal holidays)
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Avni-Barron, O, and P.S. Wiegartz. "Issues in treating anxiety disorders in pregnancy." Psychiatric Times 28 Sept. 7, 2011.
Baker FM, Bell CC. Issues in the psychiatric treatment of African Americans. Psychiatric Services 1999 March; 50: 362-368.
Barnes, R. "Information on ECT." Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Special Committee on ECT and related treatment. November 2013.
Beck CT, Gable RK. Further validation of the postpartum depression screening scale. Nursing Research 2001; 50(3): 155-164.
Cormin EJ, Kohen R, Jarrett M, Stafford B. The heritability of postpartum depression. Biological Research for Nursing 2010 July; 12: 173-183.
Dennis CL. Psychosocial and psychological interventions for prevention of postnatal depression: systematic review. British Journal of Medicine 2005 July; 331(7507): 15.
Fitelson, E., S. Kim, A.S. Baker, and K. Leight. "Treatment of postpartum depression: clinical, psychological and pharmacological options." International Journal of Women's Health 3 (2011): 1-14.
Freeman MP, Markowitz JC, Rosenbaum JF, et al. Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder, Third Edition; American Psychiatric Association October 2010.
Hirst, K.P., and C.Y. Moutier. "Postpartum major depression." American Family Physician 82.8 Oct. 2010: 926-933.
Kendig, S., J.P. Keats, M.C. Hoffman, et al. "Consensus bundle on maternal mental health." Obstetrics and Gynecology 129.3 Mar. 2017: 422-430.
Kessler CF, Gilman CP. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: her Progress Toward Utopia with Selected Writings
Kim P, Swain JE. Sad dads: paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry 2007 February; 4(2): 35-47.
Lee, Y.J., S.W.M. Yim, D.H. Ju, et al. "Correlation between postpartum depression and premenstural dysphoric disorder: Single center study." Obstetrics & Gynecology Science 58.8 Sept. 2015: 353-358.
Lin KM, Cheung F. Mental health issues for Asian Americans. Psychiatric Services 1999 June; 50: 774-780.
Marin H. Hispanics and psychiatric medications: An overview. Psychiatric Times 2003 October; 20(10).
Meyer IH. Prejudice, social stress and mental health in lesbian, gay and bisexual populations: conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin 2003; 129(5): 674-697.
O'Hara MW, Stuart S, Gorman LL, Wenzel A. Efficacy of interpersonal psychotherapy for postpartum depression. Archives of General Psychiatry 2000; 57: 1039-1045.
Paulson JF, Dauber S, Leiferman JA. Individual and combined effects of postpartum depression in mothers and fathers on parenting behavior. Pediatrics 2006 August; 118(2): 659-668.
Rudorfer, M.V., M.E. Henry, and H.A. Sackeim. "Electroconvulsive therapy." Psychiatry, Second Edition. Eds. A. Tasman, J. Kay, J.A. Lieberman: Chichester: John Wiley & Sons 2003: 1865-1901.
Rundgren, S., O. Brus, U. Bave, et al. "Improvement of postpartum depression and psychosis after electroconvulsive therapy: A population-based study with a matched comparison group." Journal of Affective Disorders 235.1 Aug. 2018: 258-264.
Sacher J, Wilson AA, Houle S, et al. Elevated brain monoamine oxidase A binding in the early postpartum period. Archives of General Psychiatry 2010 May; 67(5): 468-474.
Sit D, Rothschild AJ, Wisner KL. A review of postpartum psychosis. Journal of Women's Health 2006; 15(4).
Spinelli MG. Maternal infanticide associated with mental illness: prevention and the promise of saved lives. American Journal of Psychiatry 2004 September; 161: 1548-1557.
Stevens LM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Postpartum depression. Journal of the American Medical Association 2010; 304(15): 1736.
Wisner KL, Parry BL, Piontek CM. Postpartum depression. New England Journal of Medicine 2002 July; 347(3).
Romano M, Cacciatore A, Giordano R, La Rosa B. Postpartum period: three distinct but continuous phases. J Prenat Med. 2010;4(2):22-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279173/
Kansky C. Normal and Abnormal Puerperium, Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/260187-overview
Top Postpartum Depression Related Articles
12 Tips for Success with Antidepressants, SSRI MedicationAntidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are medication treatments for depression. Learn about side effects, interactions, and brand names for MAOIs, TCAs and other antidepressants. Find out how antidepressants work and why they are useful in fighting depression.
Anxiety DisordersAnxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by symptoms such as trouble concentrating, headaches, sleep problems, and irritability. Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. Treatment for anxiety may incorporate medications and psychotherapy.
Breastfeeding (and Formula Feeding)It's important to know whether you will breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby prior to delivery, as the breasts' ability to produce milk diminishes soon after childbirth without the stimulation of breastfeeding. Breast milk is easily digested by babies and contains infection-fighting antibodies and cholesterol, which promotes brain growth. Formula-fed babies actually need to eat somewhat less often since formula is less readily digested by the baby than human milk. This article explores the advantages and disadvantages of both forms of feeding.
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat Depression?Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) uses cognitive strategies to help people change patterns in the way they think and behavioral strategies to help people change behaviors that aren't helpful. CBT can help people with mild-to-moderate major depressive disorder.
Learn to Spot Depression: Symptoms, Warning Signs, MedicationKnow when you or someone else is depressed. Get information on depression symptoms, signs, tests, and treatments for many types of depression chronic depression and postpartum depression.
Depression QuizMany people do not recognize the symptoms and warning signs of depression and depressive disorders in children and adults. With proper diagnosis, treatments and medications are available. Take this quiz to learn more about recovery from depression.
HeadacheHeadaches can be divided into two categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Migraine headaches, tension headaches, and cluster headaches are considered primary headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by disease. Headache symptoms vary with the headache type. Over-the-counter pain relievers provide short-term relief for most headaches.
Labor and DeliveryEarly and later symptoms and signs of labor and delivery are unique to each woman. Early signs of labor are "lightning" and passing the mucus plug. Later symptoms and signs that labor that labor is are the woman's water breaking, and when contractions begin. There are three stages of labor, stage 1 is the longest and occurs when the cervix begins to thin and dilate. During stage 2 of labor the baby passes through the birth canal and remains there until delivery, and stage 3, is when the baby is delivered.
Panic AttacksPanic attacks are sudden feelings of terror that strike without warning. These episodes can occur at any time, even during sleep. A person experiencing a panic attack may believe that he or she is having a heart attack or that death is imminent. The fear and terror that a person experiences during a panic attack are not in proportion to the true situation and may be unrelated to what is happening around them. Most people with panic attacks experience several of the following symptoms: racing heartbeat, faintness, dizziness, numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers, chills, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of loss or control. There are several treatments for panic attacks.
Postpartum Depression: Symptoms, Diagnosis and TreatmentPostpartum depression symptoms include insomnia, anger, and irritability after giving birth. Learn about postpartum depression treatment, statistics, test, signs, help, and screening.
Sleep DisordersA number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best. Sleep needs vary from individual to individual and change throughout your life. The National Institutes of Health recommend about 7-9 hours of sleep each night for older, school-aged children, teens, and most average adults; 10-12 for preschool-aged children; and 16-18 hours for newborns. There are two stages of sleep: 1) REM sleep (rapid-eye movement), and 2) NREM sleep (non-rapid-eye movement).
StressStress is a normal part of life, but chronic or severe stress can be harmful to your health. Learn what happens in your body when you are stressed and how you can manage your response.
Symptoms of 12 Serious Diseases and Health ProblemsLearn how to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of serious diseases and health problems, for example, chronic cough, headache, chest pain, nausea, stool color or consistency changes, heartburn, skin moles, anxiety, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, delusions, lightheadedness, night sweats, eye problems, confusion, depression, severe pelvic or abdominal pain, unusual vaginal discharge, and nipple changes.
The symptoms and signs of serious health problems can be caused by strokes, heart attacks, cancers, reproductive problems in females (for example, cancers, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and sexually transmitted diseases or STDs), breast problems (for example, breast cancer and non-cancer related diseases), lung diseases (for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, lung cancer, emphysema, and asthma), stomach or digestive diseases (for example, cancers, gallbladder, liver, and pancreatic diseases, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease), bladder problems (for example, urinary incontinence, and kidney infections), skin cancer, muscle and joint problems, emotional problems or mental illness (for example, postpartum depression, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mania, and schizophrenia), and headache disorders (for example, migraines, or "the worst headache of your life), and eating disorders and weight problems (for example, anorexia or bulimia).
What Are the Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy. It helps people manage their emotional and behavioral problems by changing the way they perceive the world and react to it.