What Is Postpartum Depression?

From: The American Psychiatric Association

Depression During Pregnancy and after Childbirth

For most women, having a baby is a very exciting, joyous, and often anxious time. But for women with peripartum (formerly postpartum) depression it can become very distressing and difficult. Peripartum depression refers to depression occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth. The use of the term peripartum recognizes that depression associated with having a baby often begins during pregnancy.

Peripartum depression is a serious, but treatable medical illness involving feelings of extreme sadness, indifference and/or anxiety, as well as changes in energy, sleep, and appetite. It carries risks for the mother and child.

An estimated one in seven women experiences peripartum depression.

Pregnancy and the period after delivery can be a particularly vulnerable time for women. Mothers often experience immense biological, emotional, financial, and social changes during this time. Some women can be at an increased risk for developing mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety.

Up to 70 percent of all new mothers experience the “baby blues,” a short-lasting condition that does not interfere with daily activities and doesn't require medical attention. Symptoms of this emotional condition may include crying for no reason, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. These symptoms last a week or two and generally resolve on their own without treatment.

Peripartum depression is different from the “baby blues” in that it is emotionally and physically debilitating and may continue for months or more. Getting treatment is important for both the mother and the child.

Symptoms of peripartum depression

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed

  • Changes in appetite

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue

  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to still still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech [these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others]

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

  • Crying for “no reason”

  • Lack of interest in the baby, not feeling bonded to the baby, or feeling very anxious about/around the baby

  • Feelings of being a bad mother

  • Fear of harming the baby or oneself

A woman experiencing peripartum depression usually has several of these symptoms, and the symptoms and their severity may change. These symptoms may cause new mothers to feel isolated, guilty, or ashamed.

Many women with peripartum depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. One study found that nearly two-thirds of women with peripartum depression also had an anxiety disorder.

You should contact your doctor if:

  • You are experiencing several of the symptoms above for more than two weeks

  • You have thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming your child

  • Your depressed feelings are getting worse

  • You are having trouble with daily tasks or taking care of your baby

Fathers: Pregnancy/childbirth and Depression

New fathers can also experience symptoms of peripartum depression. Symptoms may include fatigue and changes in eating or sleeping. An estimated 4% of fathers experience depression in the first year after their child’s birth. Younger fathers, those with a history of depression and fathers with financial difficulties are at increased risk of experiencing depression.


Many women may suffer in silence, dismissing their struggles as a normal part of pregnancy and childbirth and fail to seek care. Treatment for depression during pregnancy is essential. Greater awareness and understanding can lead to better outcomes for women and their babies.

Like other types of depression, peripartum depression can be managed with psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, lifestyle changes and supportive environment or a combination of these.

The support of family and friends, joining a mom’s support group, and good nutrition and exercise can be helpful. Other suggestions for helping to cope with peripartum depression include resting as much as you can (sleep when your baby sleeps) and make time to go out or visit friends.

Strong support from partners, family and friends is very important.

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