Post Partum Mood Disorders

My baby’s here, so how come I’m not happy?

April 30th, 2010

One would think that after weeks of bed rest, a new mama holding her precious new baby and free to be up and about would be overjoyed. Yet all to commonly a new mama, whether she spent time on prescribed bed rest or not, may feel sad. While these “baby blues” are common immediately after delivery, symptoms that persist beyond the first few weeks and intensify over the next 3 months are more likely associated with post partum depression.

Post partum mood disorders are reported to be present in as many as 85% of all post partum women (1). Most times these are transient decreased moods that gradually resolve within the first couple of weeks following delivery . However, in the case of post partum depression, the symptoms actually persist and get worse. Women become increasingly sad, fatigued and anxious. They may experience changes in appetite and sleep changes, most notably sleep deprivation. They usually have no interest in sex. They find it hard to take care of themselves and their baby and some even have thoughts of harming themselves or their baby. These are classic signs of post partum depression and if left untreated, post partum depression can have serious long term negative effects on both mama and baby’s health.

Post partum depression affects approximately 10-15% of all women who give birth, but because the methods of screening and frequency of screening for post partum depression vary so greatly, the actual prevalence of post partum depression falls within a range of 1.2 to 25% of all pregnancies (2). Post partum depression was once thought to be merely a manifestation of the hormonal imbalance in the post partum women. But we now know that post partum depression occurs more frequently in women who have a personal history or family history of depressive disorders as well as (3):

  • Treatment for infertility
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Hyperemesis Gravidarum
  • Problems with your thyroid
  • Mothers of multiples
  • Diabetes (type 1, 2 or gestational)
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Poverty/Low Income
  • Military wives

This list encompasses many (of course not all) of the indications for prescribed bed rest, so mamas on bed rest are at particular risk of developing post partum depression. We also know that women who are under stress, are in pain, are sleep deprived, had traumatic birth experiences or had pregnancy loss are at increased risk of developing post partum depression.

But there is an upside to all of this. Post partum depression, when promptly and properly diagnosed is highly treatable. Using a combination of medications, psychotherapy and self care and personal support women who suffer from post partum depression can be freed from the disorder and they and their babies can go on to live happy, healthy lives.

The next few blog posts will address some physiologic causes of post partum depression, some of the socioeconomic causes of post partum depression, treatments options and post partum psychosis. If you have personal experience with post partum depression and would be willing to share your story please add it to our comments section so that other women can benefit from the wisdom of your experience. Also, if you have a post partum depression resource, please e-mail it to me at

1. Beck, CT,  Post Partum Depression: It isn’t just the blues. American Journal of Nursing, 2006: 106 (5) 40-50

2. Leopold, Kathryn et al. Post Partum Depression: Women’s Primary Care Grand Rounds. The University of Michigan. OB/ 2010

3. List compiled by Katherine Stone, blog owner, Post Partum Progress.

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