Being pregnant and delivering a child can be incredible and life-changing experiences. They can also be challenging or even traumatic. Many people experience symptoms of depression during or after pregnancy. This is called postpartum depression, or PPD.
“Postpartum” means “after childbirth.” Since PPD can happen during or after pregnancy, it is also called peripartum depression or perinatal depression.
The symptoms of PPD are similar to other types of depression:
- Feeling or appearing low, empty inside, or irritable most of the day every day
- Losing interest in activities you would normally enjoy
- Changes in appetite—eating more or less than usual
- Changes in sleep—either not being able to sleep (even if the baby is asleep) or sleeping too much
- Changes in activity—feeling restless or sluggish
- Feeling exhausted even when you seem to be getting enough sleep
- Speaking or moving slowly, fidgeting, or pacing
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
In addition, you may experience:
- Not feeling bonded to or interested in the baby
- Feeling anxious about the baby
- Doubting your ability to take care of the baby
- Thoughts about harming or abandoning the baby
These thoughts and feelings can feel very uncomfortable or shocking, and depression is exacerbated by unmet expectation about what childbirth and what having a baby was “supposed” to feel like. Many people experience symptoms of depression during and after pregnancy. It’s understandable—think about it: You’ve just gone through a lot of hormonal changes. Your body has changed—in some ways, permanently. You’re now responsible for the 24/7 care of a helpless human being. You’re definitely not sleeping and you had no way of anticipating how all of these new experiences were going to effect your thoughts, your sense of self, and your ability to be a mother.
While most people experience the “baby blues” for a couple weeks after giving birth, PPD is different. PPD lasts longer and is more severe and many of the thoughts and experiences are a concern because you might feel scared about them or you can see how they’re seriously impacting your life.
If you’re not sure whether what you’re experiencing is PPD, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about it. You can also take our online postpartum depression screen.
How do you treat postpartum depression?
The treatment for PPD is similar to the treatment for other forms of depression. Therapy is a great way of treating PPD. You can also try making lifestyle changes, such as keeping good sleep habits and taking time for yourself to relax. Reach out to friends and family for help.
Medications can also help. However, some antidepressants should not be taken while pregnant or breastfeeding. Make sure to go over the risks and benefits of medication with your doctor.
Treating PPD is similar to treating other types of depression—but there is one new treatment specifically for PPD. Zulresso is a medication that is given at a specialized facility. The medication is injected into the patient over the course of a few days. Click here to search for facilities that administer Zulresso.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or text “MHA” to 741741 to talk to a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line.
What if I’m not the one who gave birth?
PPD is generally experienced by the person who is experiencing pregnancy and childbirth. But it’s possible for the other parent to experience depression during this time as well. The symptoms and treatment are similar no matter who is experiencing it.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
- American Psychiatric Association. What is Postpartum Depression? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression
- National Institute of Mental Health. Perinatal Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/perinatal-depression/index.shtml
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019). FDA approves first treatment for post-partum depression. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-treatment-post-partum-depression