What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a disorder that affects 10-15% of women, usually between the 6th and 12th week after the baby’s birth.
The new mother feels sad without any reason; she’s irritable, cries, feels inadequate to the challenges ahead and may also experience sleeping disorders, loss of appetite, and severe mood swings.
Postpartum depression needs to be distinguished from a very common reaction of new mothers, called “baby blues”, which occurs during the 3-4 days after giving birth and tends to disappear in a couple of weeks. The new mother experiences a feeling of sadness, irritability and restlessness; these feelings are primarily due to the drastic hormonal change that occurs during the hours immediately after delivery and to the physical and mental fatigue caused by labor and childbirth. This condition is very common and affects over 70% of new mothers.
Postpartum depression is instead characterized by more intense and long-lasting symptoms, that continue for more than two weeks and interfere with the performance of daily activities. In this case it is recommended to consult a specialist like a psychologist or psychiatrist with whom the new mother can confront herself to find the best way to deal with her feelings.
In the worst cases, the use of antidepressant drugs might be necessary.
What are the causes?
Postpartum depression can have different causes.
Even though hormonal changes are not the only cause of mood disorders that affect women, they can trigger pathological mechanisms which involve different neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline. The reduction of noradrenaline leads to a reduced responsiveness of the new mother, while the reduction of serotonin leads to sleep-wake rhythm disorders and to more obsessive attitudes.
Surely, postpartum mood swings can also be attributed to the sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone levels in the blood, which, after reaching their maximum concentration by the end of pregnancy, suddenly go back to base levels in 2-5 days.
Together with biological causes, the risk of post-partum depression can also have a genetic or psycho-social origin. If the new mother has relatives that suffer from depressive disorders, she is exposed to a 2-3 times greater risk to be affected by depression.
Today we are very sensitive to this issue, and different approaches which include meetings with experts, sharing experiences with other new mothers, and specialist advice are suggested to new mothers.