Postpartum Depression

What is postpartum depression?

Mother holding a newborn babyThe postpartum period is a time of extreme vulnerability to depression. Up to eighty percent of women experience a phenomenon called the "postpartum blues." This is a brief period during which women are tearful or extremely sensitive and may be more moody. Usually women who have postpartum blues are tearful as a response to any emotion that they might be feeling.  It is not that they feel particularly sad; however, they feel a combination of lots of emotions that s eem almost overwhelming.  Sometimes sleep is a problem. The "blues" usually resolve without treatment within 1 to 2 weeks of giving birth.

About twelve to fifteen percent of women develop postpartum depression. This involves more significant symptoms of depression which women begin to experience within a few days of giving birth, and may continue to experience for weeks or months following delivery. Rapidly changing hormones seem to play a role in sensitizing women to depression. The psychological changes involved in parenting a new infant, the physical stress of the birth, and lack of sleep may also play a role. Rarely, depression can progress to the point where women develop confused and disorganized thinking about themselves or the baby, hallucinate, or even consider suicide. Suicide or even infant homicide are the most catastrophic results when this disorder is not properly identified. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your health care provider immediately.

Women who are most vulnerable to postpartum depression usually have a personal or family history of depression. Studies show that most women who experience major depression after childbirth have had prior episodes of depression even though they may not have been diagnosed or treated. Those with prior episodes of postpartum depression will experience a recurrence following the next delivery about half of the time. Single women, those in unsupportive relationships, and women with multiple children also may be more at risk.

Learn more about postpartum depression:

Adapted with permission from the University of Michigan Depression Center Web site.