Types of Postpartum Depression

There are three terms to describe the mood changes women can have after giving birth:

  • The “baby blues” happen to as many as 70% of women in the days right after childbirth. You may have sudden mood swings, such as feeling very happy and then feeling very sad. You may cry for no reason and can feel impatient, cranky, restless, anxious, lonely and sad. The baby blues may last only a few hours or as long as 1-2 weeks after delivery. Usually, you do not need treatment from a healthcare provider. Often joining a support group of new moms or talking with other moms helps.
  • Postpartum Depression (PPD) can happen a few days or even months after childbirth. PPD can happen after the birth of any child, not just the first child. You can have feelings similar to the baby blues – sadness, despair, anxiety, crankiness – but you feel them much more strongly. PPD often keeps you from doing the things you need to do every day. When your ability function is affected, you need to see a health care provider. If you do not treat PPD, the symptoms can get worse. While PPD is a serious condition, it can be treated with medication and counselling.
  • Postpartum Psychosis is a very serious mental illness that can affect new mothers. This illness can happen very quickly, often within the first 3 months of childbirth. Women can lose touch with reality, having auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren’t actually happening, like a person talking) and delusions (strongly believing things that are clearly irrational). Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there) are less common. Other symptoms include insomnia, feeling agitated and angry, pacing, restlessness and strange feelings and behaviours. Women who have postpartum psychosis need treatment right away and almost always need medication. Sometimes women are put into the hospital because they are at risk of hurting themselves or someone else.

Postpartum Depression Treatment

Postpartum depression is treated differently, depending on the type of symptoms and how severe they are. Treatment options include anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and participation in a support group.

In the case of postpartum psychosis, drugs used to treat psychosis are usually added. Hospital admission is also often necessary.

If you are breastfeeding, do not assume that you can’t take medication for depression, anxiety or even psychosis. Talk to your healthcare provider as this is a decision to make between you and your provider.

Postpartum Depression Complications

PPD that is not treated can weaken your ability to bond with your baby, and affect the whole family:

  • You. PPD that is not treated can last for months or longer, even turning into a chronic depressive disorder. Even with treatment, postpartum depression can make you more likely to have episodes of depression in the future.
  • The baby’s father. When a new mother has depression, the father may be more likely to have depression too.
  • Children. Children of mothers with postpartum depression are more likely to have problems with sleeping and eating and crying more than usual.

Postpartum Depression Prevention

If you have a history of depression, tell your doctor as soon as you find out you are pregnant, or if you are planning to become pregnant.

  • During pregnancy. Your doctor can monitor you for symptoms. You can manage mild depression symptoms with support groups, counselling or other therapies. Your doctor may prescribe medications.
  • After your baby is born. Your doctor may recommend early postpartum checkups to look for symptoms of depression. The earlier you are diagnosed, the earlier you can begin treatment. If you have a history of postpartum depression, your doctor may recommend treatment as soon as you have the baby.

Managing after childbirth

Here are some tips that can help you cope with bringing a newborn home:

  • Ask for help
  • Be realistic about your expectations for yourself and your baby
  • Exercise, within the limits of any restrictions your doctor may place on your level of activity. Take a walk, and get out of the house for a break
  • Expect some good days and some bad days
  • Follow a sensible diet, avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Foster the relationship with your partner, make time for each other
  • Keep in touch with friends and family, and do not isolate yourself
  • Limit visitors when you first go home
  • Sleep or rest when your baby sleeps