What is the Cause of Postpartum Depression?

What is the Cause of Postpartum Depression?

After a long and difficult pregnancy, you’ve returned home with a healthy baby. Your partner alternates between joy and stress, your extended family walks on eggshells around you, and the baby is a fidgety, restless sleeper. You’ve become angry and eat and sleep less than ever before – months after leaving the hospital. What’s going on? You have the first signs of postpartum depression, but where exactly did it come from?

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is a kind of mental illness that many moms-to-be or new moms experience. It can happen before, during, or after childbirth, and unlike a milder case of the baby blues, the symptoms rarely subside on their own and can lead to other mental and physical health problems if not treated. Symptoms may include:

  • Depressed mood or intense mood swings
  • Extreme crying
  • Problems bonding with your child
  • Self-isolating from family and loved ones
  • Your appetite has changed, and you eat too little or too much
  • Sleeping more than needed or not enough
  • Overwhelming tiredness or low energy
  • Lack of interest and joy in things you once enjoyed doing
  • Easily irritated or angry
  • Dread that you’re a bad mother
  • Hopelessness
  • You feel worthless, shameful, or guilty
  • Problems thinking, concentrating, or decision-making
  • Agitation
  • Undue anxiety and panic 
  • Thoughts of harming your baby or self-harm
  • Preoccupied with death or suicide

Postpartum Depression and What Causes It

Like many other mental health conditions, postpartum depression doesn’t have one cause but many. A variety of factors can influence someone getting depression before, during, or after pregnancy. Though new moms are most affected by such depression, it can also happen in men, too – in that case. It’s referred to as a paternal postpartum depression. Depression related to pregnancy and childbirth can also happen to siblings of the new baby, as well as other relatives and caregivers who interact with a new mom and her baby. In all cases, however, there are several potential causes worth discussing.

  • Changing hormone levels. It’s known that quantities of estrogen and progesterone go down fast in the hours following childbirth. Such changes could trigger depression much like tinier drops in hormone levels cause tension and mood swings before a woman’s menstrual period.
  • Personal or family history of depression. Women who’ve been depressed before, during, or after pregnancy – or undergoing treatment for depression are at greater risk of getting postpartum depression.
  • Emotions. Moms-to-be often has doubts about pregnancy, especially if it’s unwanted or unplanned. In this case, there can be strong, conflicting emotions about her pregnancy and unborn child. Even a planned pregnancy can result in an adjustment period for a new mom. A new baby’s health can trigger conflicting emotions, too, like sadness, anger, and guilt. Emotional issues can lead to problems dealing with stress and a woman’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
  • Constant tiredness. Giving birth can be physically exhausting, taking weeks or even longer for a new mom to regain her expected strength and energy. And even then, it could take longer to slip back into a normal life of work, home, school, and other physically draining responsibilities. There’s usually an even longer recovery time for women who went through a cesarean birth.
  • There could be lifestyle factors at play, too. Suppose a new mom doesn’t have a reliable support system of friends and family, faces significant stress or big life changes, or has relationship issues. In that case, she also could be at higher risk of postpartum depression.

Pregnancy and childbirth-related depression also happen in men, called paternal postpartum depression. In this case, it has many of the same causes as it does for women. Hormones play a role and the pressure of a man’s new and evolving relationship with the baby and baby’s mom, how his personal and professional life has changed, and societal norms for expected behavior and responsibilities for new dads.

Postpartum depression in siblings, other relatives, and even non-family members can happen, too, often for many of the same reasons – hormones, relationship issues, family dynamics, and family and external expectations.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your healthcare provider can diagnose your condition and recommend treatment, no matter the cause. Once you’ve begun having symptoms, seeing a specialist and talking through what’s wrong is the first step to recovering. During a medical examination, you also may be asked to fill out a mental health assessment, which can be used to determine the best treatment options like therapy, self-help, or different medicine.

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