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Postpartum Depression: Symptoms and Treatment Options

There are so many joyous reasons for new parents to celebrate after the birth of a child. If postpartum depression (PPD) strikes, those precious moments turn to gray. Postpartum depression can be especially heartbreaking because it hits at a time when you deserve to be soaking up every soft giggle and cuddle session. Instead, you feel disconnected and can’t shake the cloud hanging over your head. If these feelings don’t go away after a couple weeks, it’s time to consider postpartum depression treatment.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Many new moms feel the “baby blues” right after giving birth. The Mayo Clinic says you might have “mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks.”

Other moms experience more intense feelings, which are characterized as postpartum depression. The symptoms are like those of “baby blues,” but they last longer and can eventually interfere with your responsibilities.

Symptoms of postpartum depression:

  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Severe mood swings
  • Changes in appetite
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Feelings of failure or unworthiness as a parent
  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming your baby

You may start to experience these warning signs during pregnancy, within a few weeks of giving birth, or even a year after your baby is born. In extremely severe cases, a mood disorder called postpartum psychosis can develop. Affecting only 1 to 2 of every 1,000 deliveries, postpartum psychosis is very rare but requires immediate attention.

postpartum depression treatment

Postpartum Depression: Why Me?

As a pregnant woman, your body undergoes so many changes, and your hormones fluctuate daily. Once you’ve given birth, you expect your body to gradually return to its normal state. When that doesn’t happen, it can take you and your family by surprise. You may even wonder, “Why is this happening to me?”

A study published in Depression and Anxiety discovered a couple possible reasons that some women experience PPD, but others don’t. Researchers found that women with a history of depression were more likely to have postpartum depression. The risk is 20 times higher for these women. There’s also a moderate increase in risk if you develop gestational diabetes while pregnant.

There are a few other risk factors that can increase your likelihood of PPD:

  • If you had postpartum depression after a previous pregnancy
  • If you recently experienced a stressful or traumatic event
  • If you’re dealing with a strained marriage or relationship
  • If you have a family history of depression or other mood disorder
  • If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder

If you’re a mom-to-be with a history of depression, there are strategies you can implement while pregnant that ease postpartum feelings. Some of these include:

  • Learning how to relax through deep breathing, meditation, or another method
  • Talking to a therapist
  • Exercising
  • Tempering your expectation of being a perfect parent

Talk to your healthcare professional about your concerns. They can help you devise a strategy to care for your mental health, so you’re prepared for the changes a new baby brings to your daily routine.

Men Can Get Postpartum Depression, Too

Despite it being known as a women’s health issue, postpartum depression can also affect men. The exact cause is unclear, but there are a few theories about paternal PPD.

Biologically, if a man has low testosterone levels, low estrogen levels, or low cortisol levels, he could be predisposed to PPD. If a father-to-be lacked a good role model growing up or doesn’t have a strong social support system, he could experience feelings of depression as a new dad. Changes in lifestyle or relationship status can also increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.

Co-occurring disorders need to be considered as well. “Sad dads,” as a Psychiatry review described them, often suffer with anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Maternal PPD can increase the chances of paternal PPD, and vice versa.

Men can usually tell if postpartum depression has hit if they’re irritable and feel helpless. An official diagnosis requires that five of the following symptoms be present for at least two weeks. At least one of the symptoms must be loss of interest in activities or depressed mood.

Symptoms of paternal postpartum depression:

  • Depressed or sad mood
  • Loss of interest in almost all activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain)
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Suicidal thoughts

Postpartum Depression Treatment

Men and women can both benefit from postpartum depression treatment! There are several options for treatment, so you can determine which method works best for you.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

IPT is a problem-focused form of psychological treatment. You and your therapist will identify one interpersonal problem and make that the center of your therapy sessions. Over the course of 12 to 20 weeks, you’ll learn the right approach to building relationships and a better social support system. The goal is to address problems related to:

  • Your relationship with your baby
  • Issues within your marriage or relationship(s)
  • The stress of transitioning to motherhood

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a common way to cope with depression. Through regular one-on-one therapy sessions, you learn how to cope with negative thoughts. You may even learn how to turn them into positive thinking patterns.

Nondirective Counseling

This is an unstructured form of counseling, where your therapist simply listens to your thoughts and feelings. There’s no judgment—only empathy and support. For a new mom, simply talking can make you feel like a weight has been lifted.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS sends magnetic pulses to the left pre-frontal cortex of your brain, which is the area that regulates your mood. This FDA-approved procedure is used to treat depression and other psychiatric disorders. TMS does not carry any harmful side effects. You’ll be in and out of the doctor’s office in 18 to 19 minutes, and you’ll come back for approximately 36 sessions to treat your postpartum depression.

A review of several studies showed that of the women who didn’t receive care for postpartum depression, 30% were still depressed 3 years later. Clearly, postpartum depression treatment is important. If you notice signs and symptoms that don’t disappear within a couple weeks, talk to your doctor or therapist about treatment for postpartum depression right away.

About Jon Nilsen

Jon started his TMS career in 2008, shortly after TMS was by the FDA. He has worked as a treater and TMS consultant for many TMS centers in the Chicagoland area and across the country and has nearly 1,000 patient contacts with TMS therapy. Jon prides himself on his motor threshold process to ensure every patient has the best chance of responding to TMS with accurate settings and a comfortable experience.

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