Experts are aware of some risk factors linked to postpartum depression (PPD). However, nobody is completely sure what causes it. Doctors say that PPD is effectively treatable, either with support groups and counseling, or such help combined with medication.
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Fast facts on postpartum depression
Here are some key points about postpartum depression. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- PPD normally appears 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth
- Usually there is no clear cause of the depression
- PPD affects approximately 1 in 7 new mothers
- An estimated 10% of fathers also experience PPD
- PPD appears to be more prevalent in urban areas
- Symptoms include feeling trapped, overwhelmed, a loss of appetite and reduced libido
- A significant proportion of mothers with postpartum depression do not tell people how they feel
- Sufferers often have thoughts about harming their baby, although this very rarely occurs
- A complicated labor can be a contributing factor to PPD
- PPD is considered a subtype of major depression.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression affects approximately 1 in 7 new mothers.
PPD, also known as postnatal depression (PND), is a type of depression that affects some women after having a baby. Typically, it develops within four to six weeks after giving birth, but can sometimes take several months to appear. Usually, there is no clear reason for the depression. The patient may experience fatigue, sadness, reduced libido, episodes of crying, irritability, anxiety, and irregular sleeping patterns.
There is absolutely no link between postpartum depression and not loving your baby. Postpartum depression is a clinical illness and not a character weakness. It is important that people with signs and symptoms see their doctor immediately.
Even though doctors and the general public are much more aware of postpartum depression today, a considerable number of women suffer in silence. A study carried out by 4Children, a UK charity, found that half of all women across the UK with postpartum depression do not see a healthcare professional about their problem.
Researchers from the Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, found that approximately 10% of fathers experience postpartum or prenatal depression. They added that the highest rates are three to six months after childbirth.
Postpartum depression prevalenceResearchers from Northwestern Medicine reported in JAMA Psychiatry that postpartum depression affects approximately 1 in every 7 new mothers.
In their study, involving over 10,000 mothers, they also found that close to 22% of them had been depressed when they were followed up 12 months after giving birth.
Team leader, Dr. Katherine L. Wisner recommends that all pregnant women and new mothers be screened for depressive symptoms. She says:
"In the U.S., the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders. It's a huge public health problem. A woman's mental health has a profound effect on fetal development as well as her child's physical and emotional development."Wisner and team discovered that:
- 19.3% of the women who had been screened for depression had considered hurting themselves
- A sizeable proportion of mothers who had screened positive for postpartum depression had had some kind of depression before, as well as an anxiety disorder
- Bipolar disorder is frequently diagnosed late. After giving birth a woman is at a much higher risk of episodes of mania.
On the next page, we look at the symptoms, causes and diagnosis of postpartum depression.