- Postpartum depression is a clinical mood disorder that can significantly impact a new parent’s health and safety and make it difficult to care for a new baby.
- Many new parents experience a decline in mood during the busy postpartum period that eventually resolves as they move beyond the postpartum stage. However, postpartum depression typically requires professional help.
- Fortunately, like other forms of depression, there are several effective treatment options for postpartum depression. These include therapy, medication, and self-care.
Many new parents experience mood changes during the postpartum period. What some people call the “baby blues” happens because of the natural hormonal fluctuations that occur as your body heals from childbirth. New parents also have to juggle all the changes that a new baby brings. And, of course, it can be hard to get enough sleep when you have a newborn. All these factors can lead to a decline in mood that will, for many people, resolve in time as their child grows.
But, for some new parents, the postpartum period can be a time of severe depression that may require professional help. When this happens, it’s called postpartum depression, and research shows that it affects approximately 1 in 7 parents after they give birth. While this can be a life-threatening mental health concern, know that help is available. By learning more about this condition’s signs, symptoms, and available treatment options, you can support your friend or loved one and their new baby during this challenging time.
Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression
While everyone experiences postpartum depression differently, there are some signs and symptoms that may indicate that your loved one needs support.
- They no longer seem interested in things they used to enjoy.
- Their eating patterns have changed significantly, either eating too much or too little.
- They seem to feel sad or anxious almost all the time.
- They experience intrusive thoughts
- They say they feel guilty or worthless or that they’re failing as a parent.
- They express a sense of dread about life as a parent.
- Their mood seems to shift rapidly and without an apparent reason.
- They cry a lot, often for long periods.
- They can’t seem to sleep, even when their baby is resting, or they sleep too much.
- They seem scattered and can’t remember things or make decisions.
- They are afraid of being left alone with their baby.
- They’ve withdrawn from friends and loved ones, preferring to spend time alone.
- They’ve expressed thoughts of hurting themselves or their baby.*
*If your loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming their baby or others, please call 911, contact a local crisis line, or head to the emergency room immediately. This will ensure that they receive support right away.
What causes postpartum depression?
While anyone can experience postpartum depression, some physiological and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition, including:
- Having pre-existing depression or anxiety
- Having a family history of depression or other mental health conditions
- Not having enough support during pregnancy or the life-changing postpartum stage
- Having a colicky or otherwise challenging baby who cries often and struggles to get on a sleeping or eating schedule
- Having a baby born with medical complications
- Being a parent for the first time, being a very young parent, or being of advanced maternal age
- Experiencing additional emotional strain due to relationship or financial problems
It’s important to remember that postpartum depression doesn’t only affect people with a new baby in their home. Because one of the main causes of postpartum depression is hormonal changes, it can also affect people who are experiencing a loss after pregnancy or people who chose adoption. In fact, grief can act as an added stressor that may make symptoms even worse.
Effective ways to offer support
If someone you care about is experiencing postpartum depression, know that there are things you can do that can make a difference. And if you’re worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, know that you’re not alone. It’s okay to ask for help and guidance. Most people navigating this situation for the first time need support. While you know your partner, friend, or loved one best, the following tips will help you learn how to support them as they heal from postpartum depression.
Tips for partners and spouses
- Listen and provide emotional support. Let them know that you’re there to listen, without judgment, as they express their thoughts and feelings. Remember that their feelings are real and valid even if you don’t fully understand them.
- Give them the support they need to focus on their needs. Make sure they have time to do activities that rejuvenate them and lift their spirits. This could be as simple as watching the baby while they go for a walk with a friend or read a book.
- Know the signs of caregiver stress. Postpartum depression can take a toll on the entire family. So be sure to prioritize your own self-care and keep tabs on your well-being as your partner heals.
- Encourage your partner or spouse to seek help. Talking to a therapist or another mental health professional can make all the difference in your partner’s recovery.
Tips for friends or family members
- Help with the to-do list. Ask if you can help with everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning, or childcare. Taking some things off a new parent’s to-do list can be incredibly helpful.
- Remind them that they’re not alone and that you’ll always be there. Let your friend or loved one know that you’re always there to listen or just spend time together even if they don’t feel like talking.
- Reach out regularly just to check in. Some new parents struggle to ask for help, mistakenly believing they need to handle it all on their own. Touching base with your friend or loved one regularly can help combat isolation and remind them that they aren’t alone.
Treatment for postpartum depression
Treating postpartum depression is not a one-size-fits-all process. But by learning about the different treatment options, you’ll be ready to support your friend or loved one in finding the support that works best for them.
- Individual therapy: A therapist can help new parents explore their feelings and find healthy ways to cope with the symptoms of postpartum depression in their day-to-day lives. Therapy is one of the most effective postpartum depression treatments. So even if someone is using another treatment approach (like medication), it’s likely that a healthcare professional will suggest therapy at the same time.
- Relaxation techniques: A therapist may suggest relaxation techniques like breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques are especially helpful because you can use them outside of therapy sessions to relieve postpartum depression symptoms whenever they occur. Relaxation techniques can help manage the intrusive thoughts that commonly accompany postpartum depression.
- Support groups: Research shows that peer support groups can help reduce the rates of depression and anxiety in pregnant people and new parents. Plus, speaking with other people who are going through similar challenges can help new parents feel less alone.
- Medications: It may surprise you to learn that many of the medications that can treat depression in non-pregnant people are safe during pregnancy and even while breast/chestfeeding. Of course, medications can carry some risks and may cause uncomfortable side effects. So new parents should speak with their healthcare provider about the best course of treatment for their situation.
Find support for postpartum depression with Rula
During the postpartum period, it’s not uncommon for new parents to face mental health challenges. If a friend, partner, or loved one is experiencing postpartum depression, remind them that they’re not alone and that help is available.
At Rula, we’re here to make it easier for busy parents to find the therapist they need to manage their symptoms during this important time. In just a few seconds, we can connect them with a provider who specializes in treating postpartum depression. If necessary, we can also refer them to one of our providers who prescribes medication.
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