Postpartum Depression: Signs and Resources for Help

“I was so excited I decorated the nursery months before the baby arrived. But when she came, it was not a dream. I had no energy to smile or even to cry. I didn’t even want to pick her up. This was not how I thought it was going to be, and I was ashamed of how I felt.”
— From “Depression During and After Pregnancy,” published by the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Such sentiments are often expressed by women with postpartum depression (PPD), a serious condition that affects 10 to 15 percent of new mothers, according to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH). The crippling sadness and overwhelming fatigue associated with PPD can disrupt a woman’s ability to care for herself and her child. By recognizing the symptoms and getting the right help from health care providers — such as women's health nurse practitioners — PPD can be treated so a new mom can better enjoy her baby and this special time in her life.

What Is PPD?

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that impacts one in eight women in the United States, according to “Depression During and After Pregnancy.” This booklet outlines possible symptoms of PPD that may occur up to one year after childbirth.

How to Recognize PPD

A woman experiencing postpartum depression may exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • Excessive worrying or feeling overly anxious
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Trouble with concentration and memory
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of interest in self-care, like dressing and bathing
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Lack of energy to perform everyday tasks
  • Crying frequently, even about minor things
  • Showing too much (or not enough) concern for the baby
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in things that used to be enjoyable

Some of these symptoms — such as sleeping problems, crying, or excessive worrying — can also be normal responses to childbirth. Many women experience the “baby blues,” which, according to OWH, “most often go away within a few days or a week” and “do not need treatment.” The symptoms of postpartum depression are more severe and last much longer. This can be the case for women who experience postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PPTSD) as a result of a real or perceived harm which occurs during labor or delivery, or those who exhibit anxiety disorders prior to pregnancy.

Postpartum psychosis (PPP), on the other end of the spectrum, is a rare but dangerous condition that occurs approximately one to four times for every 1,000 births. In addition to some of the symptoms of PPD, PPP can be characterized by thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby and/or experiencing hallucinations.

Responding to PPD

When a woman or family member suspects postpartum depression, it should not be ignored. Understanding how to identify and address PPD is a process unique to each woman and her family. Read on to learn more about resources available to women who may be experiencing postpartum depression.

Types of Treatment

Distinguishing the baby blues from more serious conditions such as postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis can be difficult for new moms and their families, so recognizing the signs early and contacting a health care provider is key to effective treatment. Consult a health care provider to discuss the different types of treatment for postpartum depression, such as counseling (talk therapy) or in some situations, antidepressant medications.

Finding Providers and Community

Regular health check ups after childbirth are linked to decreased incidence of PPD. Although postpartum care in United States is often less of a priority compared to other countries, certain organizations offer online resources that can help women connect with support groups or locate providers who specialize in treatment. OWH lists several free resources:

  • Postpartum Progress, a nonprofit organization that supports moms with PPD, provides a list of providers by state who specialize in PPD treatment and a state-by-state guide to support groups.
  • Postpartum Support International — a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness “among public and professional communities about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum” — offers multilingual chat and hotline (1-800-944-4773) resources.

Preventative Measures and What To Do In a Crisis

In addition to centering groups which offer support to pregnant women and new moms, breastfeeding is thought to have a protective effect against postpartum depression. Encourage latching early on and seek out the help of a local lactation consultant if breastfeeding becomes painful or unmanageable.

The National Child & Maternal Health Education Program, part of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), provides a series of emergency hotlines for those in crisis.

It’s important for women experiencing PPD to realize that they are not alone. If ignored, postpartum depression can last up to several years and may impact a mother’s ability to bond with and care for her child. Although PPD can be difficult to combat, with the right treatment, support network, and education, the prognosis is a good one, ensuring a bright future for mother and baby.

Please note that this blog post is for informational purposes only. Individuals should consult their health care professionals before following any of the information provided. Nursing@Georgetown does not endorse any organizations or websites contained in this blog post.

Citation for this content: Nursing@Georgetown, the online women's health nurse practitioner program from the School of Nursing & Health Studies