The birth of a baby can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect — depression.
Most new moms experience postpartum "baby blues" after childbirth, which commonly include 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.
But some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth.
Postpartum depression isn't a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it's simply a complication of giving birth. If you have postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms and help you bond with your baby.
Signs and symptoms of depression after childbirth vary, and they can range from mild to severe.
Signs and symptoms of baby blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your baby is born — may include:
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, and may eventually interfere with your ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth, but may begin earlier ― during pregnancy ― or later — up to a year after birth.
Postpartum depression signs and symptoms may include:
Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer.
With postpartum psychosis — a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery — the signs and symptoms are severe. Signs and symptoms may include:
Postpartum psychosis may lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors and requires immediate treatment.
New fathers can experience postpartum depression, too. They may feel sad or fatigued, be overwhelmed, experience anxiety, or have changes in their usual eating and sleeping patterns ― the same symptoms mothers with postpartum depression experience.
Fathers who are young, have a history of depression, experience relationship problems or are struggling financially are most at risk of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression in fathers ― sometimes called paternal postpartum depression ― can have the same negative effect on partner relationships and child development as postpartum depression in mothers can.
If you're a new father and are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety during your partner's pregnancy or in the first year after your child's birth, talk to your health care professional. Similar treatments and supports provided to mothers with postpartum depression can be beneficial in treating postpartum depression in fathers.
If you're feeling depressed after your baby's birth, you may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. But if you experience any symptoms of postpartum baby blues or postpartum depression, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. If you have symptoms that suggest you may have postpartum psychosis, get help immediately.
It's important to call your doctor as soon as possible if the signs and symptoms of depression have any of these features:
If at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, immediately seek help from your partner or loved ones in taking care of your baby and call 911 or your local emergency assistance number to get help.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they're depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms of depression. If you suspect that a friend or loved one has postpartum depression or is developing postpartum psychosis, help them seek medical attention immediately. Don't wait and hope for improvement.
There's no single cause of postpartum depression, but physical and emotional issues may play a role.
Any new mom can experience postpartum depression and it can develop after the birth of any child, not just the first. However, your risk increases if:
Left untreated, postpartum depression can interfere with mother-child bonding and cause family problems.
If you have a history of depression — especially postpartum depression — tell your doctor if you're planning on becoming pregnant or as soon as you find out you're pregnant.
Your doctor will usually talk with you about your feelings, thoughts and mental health to distinguish between a short-term case of postpartum baby blues and a more severe form of depression. Don't be embarrassed ― postpartum depression is common. Share your symptoms with your doctor so that a useful treatment plan can be created for you.
As part of your evaluation, your doctor may:
Treatment and recovery time vary, depending on the severity of your depression and your individual needs. If you have an underactive thyroid or an underlying illness, your doctor may treat those conditions or refer you to the appropriate specialist. Your doctor may also refer you to a mental health professional.
The baby blues usually fade on their own within a few days to one to two weeks. In the meantime:
Postpartum depression is often treated with psychotherapy (also called talk therapy or mental health counseling), medication or both.
With appropriate treatment, postpartum depression symptoms usually improve. In some cases, postpartum depression can continue, becoming chronic depression. It's important to continue treatment after you begin to feel better. Stopping treatment too early may lead to a relapse.
Postpartum psychosis requires immediate treatment, usually in the hospital. Treatment may include:
Treatment for postpartum psychosis can challenge a mother's ability to breast-feed. Separation from the baby makes breast-feeding difficult, and some medications used to treat postpartum psychosis aren't recommended for women who are breast-feeding. If you're experiencing postpartum psychosis, your doctor can help you work through these challenges.
In addition to professional treatment, you can do some things for yourself that build on your treatment plan and help speed recovery.
Remember, taking care of your baby includes taking care of yourself.
The already stressful, exhausting period following a baby's birth is more difficult when depression occurs. But remember, postpartum depression is never anyone's fault. It's a common medical condition that needs treatment.
So, if you're having trouble coping with postpartum depression, talk with a therapist. Ask your doctor or therapist about local support groups for new moms or women who have postpartum depression.
The sooner you get help, the sooner you'll be fully equipped to cope with depression and enjoy your new baby.
After your first appointment, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional who can create the right treatment plan for you. You may want to find a trusted family member or friend to join you for your appointment to help you remember all of the information discussed.
Before your appointment, make a list of:
Questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions during your appointment.
A doctor or mental health professional who sees you for possible postpartum depression may ask:
Your primary care provider or mental health professional will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing for and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your appointment time.