Postpartum Depression in Moms and Dads

The birth of a baby can be a stressful time for both mom and dads, both physically and emotionally. Life is turned upside down it seems and there are so many new issues to deal with. Depression and other emotional struggles around pregnancy is a serious issue of health and can occur during pregnancy or after the baby is born. “Perinatal depression” is the term for emotional illness that happens sometime around pregnancy. Baby Blues is a term for the temporary feelings of stress, sadness, worry, and tiredness that many mothers and fathers feel after childbirth.

The “Baby Blues”

The symptoms of the “Baby Blues” are quite common (50-75% of mothers) and usually last from a few days to about two weeks after giving birth. The symptoms include extreme tiredness, excessive crying and sadness, and difficulty in making decisions. A mother might also feel anxious, overwhelmed, and worry about being able to care for her baby. Irritability, mood swings, and difficulty with sleep are also common symptoms. A mother usually naturally recovers from the Baby Blues within two weeks.

Postpartum Depression

The difference with Postpartum depression, is that the symptoms are more intense, interfere with a parent’s daily functioning, and remain or intensify for months or even years if not treated. They usually begin shortly after childbirth, but can start months after the baby is born. The American Pregnancy Association estimates that about 15% of new mothers will experience postpartum depression. Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis are other recognized disorders with similar symptoms. Postpartum anxiety is likely to occur simultaneously with depression.

While approximately 1 in 9 women in the US experience depressive symptoms after giving birth, recent research estimates that up to 1 in 10 men suffer from postpartum depression after their baby is born.

Possible causes

After giving birth, the hormones progesterone and estrogen rapidly drop. This leads to mood swings from the chemical changes in the brain. Sleep-deprivation and the resulting exhaustion that is common for both mothers and fathers also likely contributes to the emotional changes.

Women that have been depressed before, or who experience some kind of trauma prior to the baby’s birth, are at increased risk for postpartum depression. Risk is also higher for new mothers who are unmarried, have not completed a high school education, currently smoke, have a low birth-weight baby, or have a baby that was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit after birth (1).

New fathers who are in poor health or have high levels of stress are at increased risk for depression, as well as unemployed dads and dads who are no longer in a relationship with the mother.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

  • Persistent sad mood, feelings of emptiness, frequent crying
  • Lack of appetite or excessive eating
  • Feeling worthlessness or guilt
  • Sleeping too much or having trouble falling asleep
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack of interest in things that were formerly enjoyed  
  • Irritability and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of bonding with the baby
  • Fear that you might harm the baby

Symptoms of anxiety include having obsessive, troubling thoughts that don’t seem to go away, feelings of panic or extreme stress, trouble making decisions, and overwhelming worry about being able to take care of the baby and be a good mother.

Everyone feels depressed from time to time, but with postpartum depression and clinical depression in general, the symptoms are present most or all the time, even when the external situation improves.

Untreated postpartum depression can affect the parent-child attachment and relationship and has been linked to impaired cognitive and emotional development.

  • Postpartum depression can decrease a father’s involvement with the newborn child. Even in the earliest stages of life, a father’s involvement with the newborn reduces the risk of illness and death and helps a child’s social, mental and educational development.
  • Postpartum depression in women is associated with lower rates of breastfeeding initiation, shorter duration of breastfeeding, impaired mother-infant bonding, and developmental disorders in infants.

Finding Support

Treatment for postpartum depression most often consists of medication and/or receiving counseling. In addition, breastfeeding appears to reduce the incidence and symptoms of postpartum depression in women so visit the LactMed database to learn about how different medications can impact breastfeeding. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also a common strategy for helping someone overcome depression. The idea of cognitive behavioral therapy is acknowledging negative patterns of thoughts and changing them.

To reduce symptoms of postpartum depression in both men and women,
 
new dads should be involved with the baby as much as possible and couples should prioritize spending more time with each other.

If you are feeling like you are less able to cope with life than you used to be, and are feeling some of the symptoms above after pregnancy, contact your health care provider and schedule an appointment so you and your family can get the help you need!

For more information

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References

Centers for Disease Control and Development. Maternal Depression. (May 23, 2017). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/maternal-depression/index.html

Howell, E., Mora, P., & Leventhal, H. (2006). Correlates of Early Postpartum Depressive Symptoms. Maternal & Child Health Journal10(2), 149-157. doi:10.1007/s10995-005-0048-9

Ko, J., Rockhill, K. M., Tong, V., Morrow, B., Farr, S. (Feb. 17, 2017). Trends in postpartum depressive symptoms. – 27 states, 2004, 2008, 2012. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6606a1.htm

Mayo Clinic Staff. (Aug. 11, 2015) Diseases and conditions: Postpartum depression. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/definition/con-20029130.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2017). Mom’s mental health patterns: Depression and anxiety around pregnancy. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/ncmhep/initiatives/moms-mental-health-matters/moms/Pages/default.aspx

National Institute for Health Care Management. (Jun 2010). Identifying and treating maternal depression: Strategies and considerations for health plans.

National Institute of Mental Health. Postpartum depression facts. Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

Stone, K. (Nov. 9, 2010). 6 Things. 6 Stages of postpartum depression. http://www.postpartumprogress.com/six-things-the-6-stages-of-postpartum-depression

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