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Why It's Best to Report Symptoms of Depression Near Birth

There’s help for women who have mood symptoms before or after a birth.

Key points

  • Depression related to pregnancy is underreported.
  • Various forms of medication and therapy are recommended to mothers with postpartum depression.
  • Studies show that as many as a quarter of mothers struggle with their mood three years after delivery.
Andrae Ricketts/Unsplash
Source: Andrae Ricketts/Unsplash

If you’re feeling depressed during your pregnancy or after birth, don’t keep it a secret.

Yes, having a child should bring joy. But it is also a big challenge to your body, self-confidence and relationships. It’s common to get the "baby blues" for about two weeks. After that, you’ll be sleep-deprived, and may worry about your baby, struggle with breastfeeding, feel that you’re not getting enough help (or the right kind of help) and sometimes wonder if you can handle this huge challenge.

Depression is more severe. But women often don’t recognize quickly that it’s happening. Be your own best friend: Ask for help if you’ve fallen into a mood that isn’t like your usual state for more than two weeks at a stretch.

What help is available?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a panel of experts, recommends therapy for new mothers who become depressed—either cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on changing thought patterns, or therapy that delves into how you are relating to others. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved a medication specifically for postpartum depression. It must be injected while you are under medical supervision.

Your ob-gynecologist or a nurse or medical provider in that office probably will ask you if you are experiencing depression symptoms like feeling numb when with your baby. An earlier USPSF report suggested that doctors screen new mothers for depression because it is so common and undertreated. Up to one in seven women develop symptoms during pregnancy or during the first year after delivery but up to half of those women may hide their feelings.

Is it just “baby blues”?

Sergiu Valena/ Unsplash
Source: Sergiu Valena/ Unsplash

Around three to five days after birth, hormonal changes can set in that cause crying, anxiety, irritability and restlessness or a feeling of being overwhelmed. That feeling, called baby blues, hits up to 80 percent of mothers. It might last for a few hours a day and fade within about two weeks.1

What are the symptoms of depression?

If your baby blues last longer than two weeks, talk to your doctor. Don’t wait for the next checkup.

Depression, called postpartum depression, can set in up to a month after delivery and last for years. Although it was thought to end after a year, new evidence based on almost 5,000 mothers found that as many as a quarter of mothers struggled with their mood three years after delivery.

Does any of this sound like you (or a loved one)?

  • You cry often, feeling hopeless, sad, worthless, or alone in life.
  • You question whether you made the right choice to have the baby and think you’re not doing a good job.
  • You don’t feel close to your baby.
  • You lose your appetite.
  • You have panic attacks with heavy breathing.
  • You’re angry and ready for a fight.

Risk factors for postpartum depression

If you have bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety, your risk of mood changes after birth rise by about a third. If you had depression symptoms after a previous birth, it’s also likely to happen again. Family history of postpartum depression counts, too.

Your baby needs you to speak up. Your depression affects your family. Evidence suggests, for example, that a mother’s depression interferes with breastfeeding and makes her less likely to notice and respond to a happy baby face.

Studies have also found that depression during pregnancy can increase the risk of problems during delivery, and lead to low birth weights and premature babies.

A version of this story appears at Your Care Everywhere.



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