While the "baby blues" are a normal experience, postpartum depression should be treated

The days and weeks after giving birth are a time of mixed emotions for most women. But when the mother feels intensely sad, anxious or "empty" a week or more after her baby is born, she may have postpartum depression.

Is it Postpartum Depression, or the "Baby Blues"?

Postpartum depression is different from what is sometimes called postpartum blues, or "the baby blues." An estimated 50 to 85 percent of women have the baby blues for a week or two after birth. Women can expect to feel overwhelmed, tearful, moody, anxious or irritable during this period, but these feelings are short-lived and aren't strong enough to impair the mother's functioning.

If these symptoms persist and interfere with daily living, however, a woman may be diagnosed with postpartum depression. Estimates vary, but 10 to 15 percent of mothers will develop the condition. The symptoms of postpartum depression, such as sleep disturbance, sadness and feelings of worthlessness, generally appear within the first three months after delivery; in some cases, they show up a year later.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

There is no single cause for postpartum depression. Physical changes caused by hormones, lifestyle issues like financial difficulties, and emotional changes brought about by sleep deprivation or feeling overwhelmed can all play a part.

According to the Office on Women's Health, women are at increased risk of postpartum depression if they:

  • Are under age 20
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs, or smoke
  • Did not plan the pregnancy or had negative feelings about the pregnancy
  • Had been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder prior to the birth
  • Had a stressful event during the pregnancy or delivery
  • Have a family member with depression or anxiety, or a family history of these mood disorders
  • Have a bad relationship with a significant other
  • Are single
  • Have financial problems
  • Get little support from family or friends

If you or a family member have recently given birth, get to know the symptoms of postpartum depression so you can ensure that any follow-up care that may be needed is sought out early.

Sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists American Psychiatric Association JAMA Patient Page: Postpartum Depression. JAMA, October 20, 2010—Vol 304, No. 15 Massachusetts General Hospital The National Women's Health Information Center, Office of Women's Health of the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services.

Publication Review By: the Editorial staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 15 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 17 Feb 2015