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What Is Postpartum Depression?

It is estimated that up to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression, or PPD. Thought to be triggered by the significant hormonal changes that a woman’s body goes through following a pregnancy, postpartum depression is not the same as the “baby blues,” which are the tearful feelings of joy, sadness, relief, fear and being overwhelmed that the majority of new mothers experience in the days following the birth of their baby. In contrast with these blues, which are generally mild and disappear within a couple of weeks, the symptoms of postpartum depression can be debilitating and last for months.

A very small percentage of women with postpartum depression develop symptoms of an even more serious condition called postpartum psychosis, in which they may experience hallucinations or delusions and feel a desire to harm themselves and/or their new child.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms and Risk Factors

Postpartum depression signs and symptoms can vary from one woman to the next, but if you (or a woman you know) have recently given birth and you are concerned about the possible onset of PPD, here are some common indicators to watch for:

Depression and Nutrition: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There may be a link between postpartum depression and the level of DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon and trout, in the body: research has found that low fish consumption and low DHA equate with higher rates of PPD.

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness that last for several weeks
  • Anxiety, guilt, panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia and/or fatigue
  • Mental fogginess; difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Significant change in appetite; eating too much or too little
  • Lack of interest in/feelings of ambivalence toward new baby

This last symptom can interfere with the mother-child bonding process and can potentially trigger other symptoms — feeling indifferent toward her baby can lead a new mother to feel sad, guilty and panicked about that indifference.

In addition, certain health and lifestyle factors seem to predispose women to developing postpartum depression, including:

  • One or more significant stressors, such as a move, career transition, break-up or colicky baby
  • Lack of a supportive partner or strong support network of friends and family
  • History of depression or having had postpartum depression with a prior pregnancy
Did You Know?

Not all women who develop postpartum depression do so in the days and weeks immediately following the birth of their baby; it can take up to six months for a mother to begin to experience symptoms.

Treating PPD

Postpartum depression is highly treatable, but first it must be diagnosed. A woman may be unwilling to admit to her symptoms because she fears it reflects negatively on her as a mother and might make others question her parenting ability and dedication — this can be especially true if postpartum depression is already causing her to feel a high degree of anxiety and guilt.

Postpartum depression treatment, like that of most other forms of depression, consists of antidepressants and/or psychological counseling. Of course, a physician will take into account whether the mother is breastfeeding or not when it comes to the selection of prescription medication(s).

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