Postpartum Mood Disorders
Pregnancy and childbirth are major events in a woman’s life and bring about a wide range of physical and emotional changes. Life with a new baby can be thrilling and exciting, but a woman may also experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear or confusion. No matter how prepared a woman is, or how much she looked forward to her pregnancy and the birth of her baby, this time may include some unexpected “lows.” These confusing emotions are postpartum conditions classified as: Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Psychosis.
The most common and least severe reaction, Baby Blues occur in the days right after delivery. Most new mothers experience this feeling of “let down” after childbirth. Symptoms may include sadness and weepiness for no apparent reason, irritability, frustration and moodiness, difficulty concentrating and feeling dependent on others. Symptoms of the blues usually disappear on their own within one to two weeks.
At least one in 10 new mothers experiences postpartum depression. Symptoms can begin during pregnancy, right after delivery or appear gradually anytime during the first year. A woman may have postpartum depression if her feelings of sadness, fear or confusion do not go away within three weeks after giving birth. Although postpartum depression does not take the same form in every woman, all of the symptoms can be equally upsetting and often leave the woman feeling ashamed, guilty and isolated.
Symptoms of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety may include:
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
- Feelings of not being a good mother
- Lack of concern or being overprotective toward the baby
- Thoughts of hurting herself or baby
- Headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness or hyperventilation
- Feeling restless, irritable or “on edge”
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should contact your health care provider.
Postpartum psychosis is the least common but most severe type of postpartum mood disorder (one to two cases per 1,000 births).
A woman with postpartum psychosis may experience:
- Extreme mood swings
- Disorganized, irrational behavior
- Hallucinations or scary thoughts
If any of these apply to you, get help right away.
Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention because of the immediate risk of self-harm or harm to the baby.
Risk Factors & Prevention
Postpartum mood disorders can affect any childbearing woman regardless of age, income, culture or education. The following risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing a postpartum mood disorder:
- Child recently weaned from breastfeeding
- Previous history of postpartum blues or postpartum depression
- Prenatal anxiety or depression
- Stressful life events during pregnancy or after childbirth (such as domestic violence, relocation or divorce)
- Lack of support from family/friends
- Chronic sleep deprivation
- History of depression not related to pregnancy or childbirth
- Family history of depression
- First-time mother or teen mother
The exact cause of postpartum mood disorders is unknown. Suspected causes include hormonal imbalances, stress and isolation. Researchers suggest that rapid changes in levels of hormones during pregnancy and after birth may have a strong effect on the moods of women. Thyroid levels may also drop sharply after giving birth, causing symptoms that feel like depression. A simple thyroid test can tell if this condition is causing depression.
If you believe you are suffering from a postpartum mood disorder, it is important that you talk with your healthcare provider. All of the symptoms, from mild-to-severe, are temporary and treatable with skilled professional help and support.
What You Can Do
- Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling
- Get as much rest as possible
- Ask friends and family to help with household chores and child care
- Keep phone numbers for support groups and counseling resources available
- Practice self-care activities as much as possible — eat nutritious meals and find activities you enjoy
- Contact Postpartum Support International at 805-967-7636 or postpartum.net for help
Follow Up Care
Postpartum Depression Organizations
- Fourth Trimester
Phone: (323) 333-2121
- Postpartum Support International
Phone: (805) 967-7636
- The National Women’s Health Information Center
Phone: (800) 994-9662
Education and Support
- Moms and Babies Support Group at MemorialCare Center for Women
Free. Tuesdays from 10:00 AM to Noon in the Sibling Time Playroom. No RSVP required.
Phone: (562) 933-0627
- Child Guidance Center
Phone: (562) 595-1159
- Family Support Center of Long Beach
Educational support and practical skills for families at risk of abuse. All services are free.
Phone: (562) 434-6899
- Maternal Outreach Management System (MOMS)
Orange County residents only. Spanish or English.
Phone: (714) 972-2610
- Postpartum Stress Support Group
A postpartum support group in Long Beach and Los Alamitos.
Phone: (562) 489-40460
- Pregnancy and Postpartum Stress Group
In Tustin on Wednesdays from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Phone: (949) 246-5062
- Women Helping Women
English and Spanish counseling, support and community resources.
Phone: (323) 655-3807 or (877) 655-3807
- Beyond the Blues, Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression & Anxiety
by Shoshana S. Bennett and Pec Indman
- Conquering Postpartum Depression: A Proven Plan for Recovery
by Ronald Rosenberg, Deborah Greening and James Windell
- Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
by Linda Sebastian
- Shouldn’t I Be Happy? Emotional Problems of Pregnant and Postpartum Women
by Shaila Misri, MD
- This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression
by Karen Kleiman and Valerie Raskin