Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that occurs in some women within the first 6 weeks after childbirth. Depression is a medical condition that leads to intense feelings of sadness or despair. These feelings don’t go away on their own.
What is going on in the body?
Depression is a disorder of the brain. Researchers believe that chemicals called neurotransmitters are involved in depression. Nerve impulses cause the release of neurotransmitters from one nerve cell, or neuron, to the next. This release allows cells to communicate with one another. Too little or too much of these important neurotransmitters may be released and cause or contribute to depression. Some of the neurotransmitters believed to be linked to depression are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Pregnancy and childbirth are accompanied by hormonal changes that can affect emotions. The round-the-clock job of caring for a new baby can seem overwhelming at times. Too little rest usually accompanies these physical and emotional stresses.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many theories about what causes depression. Depression may be caused by any of the following:
Risk factors for depression in general include:
The hormonal changes of pregnancy and childbirth contribute to a woman’s risk for postpartum depression. Caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. Physical exhaustion, lack of sleep, unrealistic role expectations, and social isolation can all play a role in postpartum depression.
The following increase the risk for developing postpartum depression:
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
In general, symptoms of depression include:
A woman with postpartum depression may also experience the following symptoms:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the condition diagnosed?
There are several tools a woman can use to screen for postpartum depression. These are designed to help her recognize the signs and symptoms of the problem so she can seek help. This may include a list of questions such as:
If a woman answers yes to any of these questions, she may be at risk for postpartum depression. The woman should have a comprehensive evaluation for depression. The evaluation may include a medical history, physical exam, and lab tests.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the condition?
There is no prevention for postpartum depression. However, there are things a woman can do to minimize the problem. These include the following steps.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Untreated, postpartum depression interferes with bonding between mother and infant. Serious depression may be accompanied by:
What are the risks to others?
Depression is not contagious. However, a mother who is severely depressed may neglect or abuse her baby.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the condition?
The two most common ways of treating depression are with antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. Often a combination is used. Occasionally a woman must be hospitalized for intense treatment or for her own safety.
Antidepressant medications are effective in the following ways:
The following types of medications are used to treat depression:
A woman with postpartum depression can also benefit from learning about the following coping mechanisms:
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Antidepressants may cause mild and usually temporary side effects in some people. The most common side effects are as follows:
What happens after treatment for the condition?
With medication, counseling and support, most cases of postpartum depression improve within 3 to 4 weeks.
How is the condition monitored?
A woman taking an antidepressant medication needs to have blood levels of the drug monitored frequently. She may have regular visits with the healthcare provider until the depression is gone. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Article type: xmedgeneral