10 Things About Postpartum Depression Your OB/GYN Wishes You Knew

Postpartum depression can really knock the wind out of a new mom. Symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, irritability, and difficulty bonding with the baby are treatable, but only if moms speak up.

FamVeld/ShutterstockIt’s really common

This doesn’t mean it’s normal, but postpartum depression does happen more than you realize. About one in nine women will experience symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “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. Here are some ways to tell if you are suffering from postpartum depression symptoms and tips on what you can do to get the help you need.

Watch for the baby blues

The “baby blues” generally last about two weeks, says Donnica Moore, MD, a Far Hills, NJ-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 seven postpartum myths that can be dangerous to believe.

Dads get it too

It’s true: Men suffer from postpartum depression too. Slightly more than 10 percent of new dads become depressed before or after their baby’s birth, according to research in JAMA. 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 you will likely be met with a seriously sarcastic eye roll. 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 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. Some random acts of kindness that can help a new mom ease their burden during those hectic first few weeks.

Moms need to talk about it

Fully one in five new mothers who develop postpartum depression or another mood disorder after childbirth suffers in silence, a new study shows. “People don’t talk about it enough,” says Dr. Sharma. She gives all of her new moms 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 help, Dr. Sharma says. “Medications or talk therapy can help.”

You are not a bad mom

The movie Bad Moms and A Bad Mom’s Christmas may have fetched lots of laughs, but bad mom guilt is no laughing matter. “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.” Following tried-and-true advice from real moms can also help new moms adjust to motherhood.

Prevention is possible

Women who have had postpartum depression in the past are up to 46 times more likely to develop it again, according to research out of Copenhagen, Denmark. “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.”

Popular Videos

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.