10 Things About Postpartum Depression Your Ob-Gyn Wishes You Knew

Postpartum depression can affect a new mom with symptoms like insomnia, irritability, and difficulty bonding.

New or expecting mothers have no doubt heard of postpartum depression—a serious depression that can affect women after childbirth. Some of the symptoms include irritability, anxiousness, and feeling disconnected from your baby. In addition to being able to recognize the signs, this is what ob-gyns want you to know about postpartum depression.

It’s really common

This doesn’t mean it’s normal, but postpartum depression does happen more than you realize. And it’s one thing no one tells you about giving birth. About one in eight women will experience symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Having a baby is a big life change and as you are dealing with it, you are also completely exhausted,” explains Geeta Sharma, MD, an ob-gyn at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

Watch for the baby blues

The “baby blues” generally last about two weeks, says Donnica Moore, MD, a Far Hills, New Jersey-based women’s health expert and host of the podcast In the Ladies’ Room with Dr. Donnica. “You may burst into tears for no reason, feel edgy or snap more frequently and this tends to peak on day five and lasts for about two weeks,” she says. “You need babysitting or housekeeping assistance and a good night’s sleep, but not necessarily medical assistance for baby blues,” she says.

Actual postpartum depression

The symptoms—including crying more often than usual, feeling angry and withdrawing from loved ones—are more severe and tend to last longer than baby blues, she says. While rare, postpartum psychosis is the most severe form of postpartum psychiatric illness and causes symptoms that can put both the mother and her child in danger. The fear that you might hurt your child is a symptom of postpartum psychosis, not postpartum depression, and this is one of several postpartum myths that can be dangerous to believe.

Dads get it too

It’s true: There’s such a thing as male postpartum depression. Slightly less than 10 percent of new dads become depressed before or after their baby’s birth, according to 2020 research in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Symptoms can include sadness, loss of interest, sleep problems, and low energy, and they tend to peak three to six months after birth, the study showed. Younger dads, those with a history of depression, and those experiencing financial stress are most likely to experience depression, according to the CDC.

Sleep plays a role

Ask any new mom how much sleep she is getting, and she’ll respond with a yawn. Sleep deprivation can cause or worsen feelings of being overwhelmed, Dr. Moore says. “We know sleep deprivation can aggravate every emotional and physical issue,” she warns. “Sometimes a new mom just needs a few hours of uninterrupted sleep to get back on track.” And there are ways for moms to get more sleep, says Dr. Sharma. “If you are breastfeeding, you can pump and then have another caregiver help out overnight so you can get a longer sleep,” says Dr. Sharma.

The risks aren’t clear

Yes, a previous history of postpartum depression does increase the chances of it happening again, but there aren’t always easily identifiable risks. “Most of the time the only risk factor is having had a baby,” Dr. Moore says. Women with a history of severe premenstrual syndrome, a personal or family history of major depression, lack of social support, and the occurrence of major negative life traumas such as losing their job or divorce may also increase the risks for developing postpartum depression.

Moms need to talk about it

Fully one in five new mothers who battle postpartum depression or another mood disorder after childbirth suffers in silence, a 2017 study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal found. “People don’t talk about it enough,” says Dr. Sharma. She gives all of her new mom patients a phone number for a psychiatrist specializing in reproductive issues as well as tips on how to cope with a newborn.

It is treatable

Postpartum depression is common and treatable—with or without medications, but only if you ask for assistance, Dr. Sharma says. “Medications or talk therapy can help.”

You are not a bad mom

“Developing postpartum depression does not mean you are a bad mother or not cut to be a mother,” Dr. Moore stresses. “Taking antidepressants doesn’t mean you are crazy, it means you are a responsible and good mother.”

Prevention is possible

Women who have had it in the past are up to 46 times more likely to develop postpartum depression again, according to 2017 research published in PLOS Medicine. “Women at high risk for postpartum depression can safely take medication during pregnancy to reduce their risk of recurrence,” says David Straker, DO, a staff psychiatrist at several New York Hospitals including New York Presbyterian-Columbia. “I will recommend antidepressants during pregnancy or that the end of pregnancy to prevent a postpartum episode in high-risk women.”

Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Vital Signs: Postpartum Depressive Symptoms and Provider Discussions About Perinatal Depression — United States, 2018"
  • Geeta Sharma, MD, an ob-gyn at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City
  • Donnica Moore, MD, a Far Hills, New Jersey-based women's health expert and host of the podcast In the Ladies' Room with Dr. Donnica
  • Journal of Affective Disorders: "Prevalence of prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers: A comprehensive meta-analysis of observational surveys"
  • Maternal and Child Health Journal: "Facilitators and Barriers to Disclosure of Postpartum Mood Disorder Symptoms to a Healthcare Provider"
  • PLOS Medicine: "Risk, treatment duration, and recurrence risk of postpartum affective disorder in women with no prior psychiatric history: A population-based cohort study"
  • David Straker, DO, a staff psychiatrist at several New York Hospitals including New York Presbyterian-Columbia

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.