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Postpartum depression is a term used to describe a number of emotional problems that can negatively affect a mother after giving birth. It’s a group of symptoms lasting more than 2–6 weeks and affects her ability to cope with daily life. Some women experience it right after birth, but it can happen anytime during the first year. Between 10-20% of North American mothers suffer from some combination of the following symptoms:
- persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
- sleeping too much or too little, early-morning awakening
- appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down"
- thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- anger and frustration
- over concern for OR lack of interest in the baby
- panic attacks
- difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- frightening fantasies-thoughts, visual images, sounds or voices
- obsessive compulsive thoughts or actions
- persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
- fear of harming herself or the baby-you must seek immediate help
Risk factors for postpartum depression
- personal or family history of psychiatric disorder
- personal or family history of postpartum emotional disorder
- marital discord or dissatisfaction; an unsupportive partner, no partner
- depression during pregnancy
- lack of social support
- low income
- a high needs baby
- grief/loss issues from the past
- high concentration of stressful life events (both positive and negative) within the last two years
- prenatal distress, anxiety, panic, or "pessimism"
- difficult pregnancy or delivery
- little or no prior experience with children
- delivering a premature or handicapped baby
- difficulty asking for help (the perfectionist or ‘supermom’)
What to do if you suspect postpartum depression:
- Don’t blame yourself or the sufferer. This is an illness.
- Become informed of the signs and symptoms so that you will recognize it.
- Get help: from your family doctor, a psychotherapist.
- Seek support at the Post Partum Adjustment Support Group through the St. Clair Child & Youth Centre 337-3701.
- Medication may be necessary for severe depression.
- Continue treatment until you are well and remember that you will recover.
St. Clair Child and Youth Services
Postpartum Support International
Beltzner, E. Ups and Downs-A New Mother’s Guide. Oakville, Ont: PASS-CAN, 1995.
Dunnewold, A. & Sanford, D. Postpartum Survival Guide: It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1994.
Pacific Post Partum Support Society. Postpartum Depression & Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide for Mothers. Vancouver, BC: Pacific Post Partum Support Society, 2001.
Handford, P. "Postpartum depression: what is it, what helps?", The Canadian Nurse, January 1985, p. 30-33.
Kryczka, C. "Not Just the Blues. Coping with Postpartum Depression", Great Expectations, Vol. 22, No. 1, January 1993, p. 36-42.
Partridge, K. "Beyond the Baby Blues. Understanding postpartum depression", Today’s Parent, September 1996, p. 84-89.
Stowe, Z,. & C. Nemeroff. "Women at risk for postpartum-onset major depression", Am J Obstet Gynecol, Vol. 173, No. 2, August 1995, p. 639-645.
The National PPSP Advisory Team. Postpartum Parent Support Program. A Newsletter. Winter 1998.