Postpartum Depression

Postpartum DepressionAccording to the Centers for Disease Control, postpartum depression affects 11% to 18% of women in the United States every year.  Symptoms can occur at any time in the first year after the birth of a baby or babies.  Women with a history of depression, younger mothers, financial stress, and insufficient social support are particularly vulnerable.  Some fathers also experience depression in the first year of a child’s life. There are a number of factors that influence postpartum depression. These include:

  • A family history of depression
  • Pre-existing depression or anxiety, that is prior to or during pregnancy
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Changes in brain chemistry or structure  related to the abrupt change in pregnancy hormones after delivery
  • Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, caring for a family member, abuse at home or in the workplace, and financial concerns
  • Unresolved issues in the family-of-origin
  • Insufficient social support
  • History of infertility and its treatment
  • Having twins or triplets
  • Experience with pregnancy or birth complications
  • Having premature labor and delivery
  • Having a baby who is different due to a birth defect or disability.
  • Having a baby in the hospital
  • Losing a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a newborn
  • Difficulties with nursing
  • Having a baby with colic

Postpartum depression is more intense than the baby blues.  It is not about character flaws, personal inadequacy, or weakness.  Postpartum depression can affect women of all ages, race, or economic status.  Everyone experiences postpartum depression differently.  For some, symptoms are primarily thought-based.  For others, there are overwhelming emotions and/or uncomfortable physical sensations.   Symptoms of postpartum depression may include:

  • Feeling guilty or fearing about not being a good mother
  • A sad or low mood that is uncharacteristic for you
  • Loss of interest in fun activities
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, or anxiety
  • Changes in eating and energy level
  • Inability to sleep even when you have the opportunity to sleep
  • Feeling out of control
  • Problems with thinking, concentration, and decision-making
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or intense guilt
  • Feeling trapped or weighed down
  • Self-hatred towards your post-delivery body
  • Unshakable worry about your baby or your ability to care for your baby
  • Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby
  • Having frightening or negative thoughts of harming your baby
  • Thoughts that life is not worth living or suicide
  • Actively planning for harming yourself or your baby

Postpartum depression is very treatable. If you feel out-of-control or you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, take action immediately:

  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room
  • Call your OB/GYN or midwife and ask to be seen in the office.  Your physician may offer an antidepressant and/or vitamin supplements.  Consider taking the medication that is offered.
  • Ask your OB/GYN for an immediate referral to a counselor (like me) who specializes in postpartum depression and anxiety. Make and keep the appointment with your new provider. Bring your partner to the appointment.

Dr. Deborah Simmons, PhD, LMFT has treated women with postpartum depression for 16 years.  


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