Maudsley Health

World-class research-led learning experience attracts the very best students from around the world who enjoy unrivalled learning opportunities, supported by strong partnerships with NHS Trusts, industry and healthcare organisation.

What is Postpartum Depression? Article by Dr Shaden Adel

Finding out that you are pregnant can bring a wide range of emotions. The spectrum can vary from joy and excitement, to fear, anxiety and stress. During the nine months of pregnancy, you can expect hormonal and physical changes to occur.

Once you have gone through labor and delivery, the breastfeeding and caretaking of a new born can bring an additional level of worry and stress. This period can be emotionally and physically draining on a woman and it is common to experience baby blues, or even postpartum depression. Several studies suggest that women are vulnerable to sudden changes in their hormones during this period which can trigger the onset of depressive symptoms.

Postpartum or postnatal blues differ from postpartum depression. Depression is a disorder that can be categorized if the symptoms persist for longer than 2 weeks. This is when the mother will require medical attention. Postpartum depression is a mood disorder presenting with symptoms that can occur immediately after birth and up to one year after delivery. Undiagnosed depression during pregnancy is the number one risk factor for postpartum depression. Untreated depression during pregnancy or after delivery can have a permanent impact on the cognitive and emotional development of the infant.

A mother with postpartum depression will experience at least five of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Poor bonding with the baby or lack of interest in all activities
  • Weight changes
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of concentration or inability to focus attention
  • Recurrent thoughts of death
  • Somatic symptoms

Depressive disorders are treatable conditions, especially if it’s identified early during pregnancy or after delivery. If you have or your family have a history of depressive disorders, you should let your doctor know as soon as you find out your pregnant. Your doctor can then monitor you closely for signs and symptoms of depression. After delivery, screening for symptoms of depression is recommended. Mild depressive disorders can benefit from a support group or therapy, whereas moderate to severe depression may need a combination of antidepressants and therapy.

The duration of treatment varies from one patient to another. This can also depend on the severity of depression, any underlying medical illness (e.g. thyroid dysfunction), co morbid conditions, a past history of mood disorders, family history and your support system.

In addition to professional treatment, you can help yourself by:

  1. Leading a healthier lifestyle. Try and get adequate rest, engage in physical activities that you enjoy and eat healthy.
  2. Making time for yourself. This can be done through arranging for a baby sitter, scheduling time with your partner or friends, and try and reduce the pressure on yourself to take care of everything.
  3. Ask for help when you need it. Open up to your family and close friends when you need their support without feeling guilty or ashamed of your feelings. Your family members are more perceptive than you realize, and can recognize your depressive symptoms and guide you if you need professional help.