What is postpartum depression?
Having a new baby can be joyful and exciting, but it can also come with mental health challenges for both mothers and fathers. Postpartum depression is a common mental health condition among women who have recently given birth, and it refers to persistent symptoms of depression that arrive after the baby’s birth and do not go away on their own. These symptoms may also appear during pregnancy. Especially because of the dominant cultural narrative that new motherhood should be a time of happiness, many women experience shame and self-blame around postpartum depression.
Some degree of sadness and feeling overwhelmed is a normal part of having a new baby, but when these feelings persist for a long time or get in the way of your day-to-day functioning, it can be helpful to seek mental health support.
How common is postpartum depression?
The World Health Organization reports that worldwide, about 13% of women who have just given birth experience some kind of mental health challenge, most often depression. The CDC also found in a recent study of 27 U.S. states that on average, 11.5% of women studied experienced at least some symptoms of postpartum depression. Additionally, the American Psychological Association notes that up to 70% of new mothers experience a milder reaction often called “the baby blues,” which usually includes symptoms of anxiety or depression that go away without treatment within a few weeks.
Fathers can also experience a version of postpartum depression; the American Psychological Association reports that roughly 4% of fathers experience depression in the year after their child’s birth.
Some studies suggests that women struggling with postpartum depression may find it especially difficult to seek mental health support. Mental Health America notes that only 40% of women dealing with mental health challenges related to pregnancy and childbirth seek treatment.
What are some symptoms of postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression shares many of the same symptoms as other forms of depression, and clinically, postpartum depression is generally diagnosed as a variety of depressive disorder rather than categorized as its own distinct condition. The key factor is that symptoms must begin during pregnancy or within four weeks of the baby’s birth. Symptoms can vary widely, but some common indicators of postpartum depression include:
Sadness or apathy: Postpartum depression is characterized by frequent and intense sadness, hopelessness, and/or loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
Fatigue and/or restlessness: You might find yourself inexplicably exhausted or, on the contrary, full of restless energy and unable to relax.
Difficulty concentrating: Postpartum depression can make it hard to keep track of things, make decisions, or maintain focus on a task.
Social withdrawal: You might feel uncomfortable in social situations, even with close friends or loved ones.
Guilt, shame, or self-blame: Parents struggling with postpartum depression may feel guilty or convinced that they are failing their babies, without any concrete reason for this belief.
Changes in sleeping or eating habits: You may find yourself sleeping or eating too much or too little.
Different types of postpartum depression and related conditions
Aside from the symptoms of postpartum depression described above, you may also experience some of the following related conditions that sometimes stem from pregnancy and/or childbirth:
Postpartum depression: Postpartum depression may come with or without anxiety symptoms. Anxiety symptoms can also appear on their own in the postpartum period. These conditions often persist for months or more.
“Baby Blues:” Many mothers and fathers feel some symptoms of anxiety and depression immediately after a child’s birth, but they may go away on their own in a matter of weeks, unlike postpartum depression and anxiety.
Antenatal anxiety or depression: It’s common for both mothers and fathers to experience mental health challenges during the mother’s pregnancy.
Postpartum psychosis: Postpartum psychosis is much rarer than other kinds of perinatal mental health challenges. It may include delusions, hallucinations, or otherwise disturbed thought and behavior in the period after a baby’s birth. Women who have previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are more likely than the general population to experience postpartum psychosis.
Challenges associated with high-risk pregnancies and births: Parents dealing with high-risks pregnancies and births—such as premature births or multiple births—may experience especially high levels of stress and be more prone to perinatal mental health challenges.
What to do if you’re experiencing postpartum depression
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression that seem to be related to your pregnancy or the birth of your child, you might consider the following options:
Therapy. Find a therapist who can help you process your experiences and use proven strategies and techniques to alleviate your symptoms. You might work with a therapist on your own, or you and your partner(s) might choose to attend therapy together. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.)
Check-ups: Because postpartum depression can be linked to the hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth, it’s especially important to stay up-to-date with your medical appointments. Your medical doctor can help you rule out physical conditions that may contribute to your symptoms and make sure that you and your baby stay well.
Medication: Many people struggling with postpartum depression find that medication helps reduce their symptoms. Medication management can be especially challenging if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, so a psychiatric professional can help you assess your options and decide if medication is the right choice for you.
Support groups. A support group can give you perspective, understanding, and solidarity from other parents who are also dealing with postpartum depression. You can search for a support groups and resources in your area through Postpartum Support International.
Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
What should I look for in a therapist for postpartum depression?
There are a number of different recommended treatments for postpartum depression. A panel of experts recently reported that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy may be the most effective treatments for most women.
Some other common options include:
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Find therapists specializing in postpartum depression near you
Find therapists who treat postpartum depression on Zencare, below. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.