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Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with Peripartum Onset, is different from the common mood swings experienced after giving birth. About 6% of women may face a major depressive episode during pregnancy or in the first year after delivery. Surprisingly, nearly 50% of these episodes start before childbirth or in the postpartum phase, which is why they’re collectively called “peripartum.”

Postpartum depression can affect any woman, regardless of her ability to be a good mother. With the right treatment, women can feel better and regain their well-being.

Recognizing the Signs
The symptoms of postpartum depression can vary, but common signs include:

  • Struggling to function in daily life
  • Feeling overwhelming guilt, anxiety, and fear
  • Losing interest in things that used to bring joy
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Crying often
  • Having thoughts of harming oneself or the baby
  • Psychotic symptoms during the peripartum period are rare but can include hallucinations, confusion, rapid mood swings, and thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby.

These symptoms occur in about 1 out of every 1,000 births and are more likely in women with a history of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.

Understanding the Causes
Several factors contribute to postpartum depression, such as a history of depression, family history of depression, lack of support, anxiety, marital or financial problems, stress, and substance use. Being a stay-at-home mom and an unwanted pregnancy also increases the risk of depressive symptoms.

Women who’ve experienced postpartum depression before are more likely to have it again. Talking to your healthcare provider can help in many cases.

Ways to Diagnosis Postpartum Depression
One of the diagnostic criteria for depression is a change in appetite. However, changes in appetite may not be a good indicator of depression during the perinatal period (the time around childbirth). Hormonal fluctuations during this period can mimic depression symptoms. Hormone levels change dramatically during pregnancy and immediately after childbirth. A blood test can check thyroid hormone levels, which can cause similar symptoms.

Ways to Treat Postpartum Depression
Getting help as soon as you notice symptoms is crucial for recovery. Treatment is personalized and may include individual, family, or group therapy, along with medications.

Research suggests that many women with postpartum depression had undiagnosed or untreated depression before. If you’ve had depression and plan to become pregnant, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to reduce the risk and improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Many psychiatric departments, like Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, offer valuable resources in this area.