Postpartum depression is common among new mothers, according to current statistics. Understanding its risks and symptoms can help women receive the right treatment.
Having a baby is a life-changing event and brings about a new set of challenges. Even in a best-case scenario, giving birth is an emotional, stressful endeavor. Many women experience the baby blues, or intense mood swings that happen during the first few days to few weeks after birth. However, some will go on to develop postpartum depression, with more intense, longer-lasting feelings of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness.
Some stigma still surrounds postpartum depression. Many people are not aware of what it is and how serious it can be. An overview of facts about postpartum depression can help people learn about its signs, risk factors and widespread prevalence.
Prevalence of Postpartum Depression
About 1 in 7 new mothers end up developing postpartum depression. As many as half of all women who have postpartum depression are not diagnosed or do not seek treatment for it. Fortunately, the prevalence of postpartum depression in the United States has decreased slightly over the past few decades.
Women aren’t the only ones affected by this condition. An estimated 10.4% of new fathers experience symptoms of depression, more than twice the rate of other men.
Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues
Shortly after giving birth, women experience a sharp drop in the levels of the pregnancy hormones progesterone and estrogen. Around half of all new mothers experience mood swings related to these hormonal changes. Known as the “baby blues,” these mood swings often involve a broad spectrum of emotion, ranging from feelings of sadness and tearfulness to pleasure and joy. Typically, baby blues subside within the first few weeks after delivery.
But postpartum depression is different from the baby blues. The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and significantly impact a woman’s ability to return to a normal life after giving birth.
Postpartum Depression Risk Factors
Any woman who has recently given birth is susceptible to developing postpartum depression. Certain psychological, obstetric, social and lifestyle risk factors can make a woman more likely to develop the condition.
- History of depression or anxiety
- History of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- A negative attitude toward the baby
- Disappointment with the baby’s gender
- History of sexual abuse
- High-risk pregnancy
- Emergency cesarean section (C-section)
- Hospitalization during pregnancy
- Umbilical cord prolapse
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Low hemoglobin
- Lack of social support
- Domestic violence
- Smoking during pregnancy
- Not getting enough sleep
- Low physical activity or exercise
- Poor diet
Rates of Postpartum Depression and Co-Occurring Disorders
Several related conditions frequently co-occur with postpartum depression. They often have several symptoms in common.
- Postpartum Psychosis: Cases of postpartum psychosis can occur along with postpartum depression. The rate of psychosis is relatively low, only affecting up to 3% of new mothers. However, diagnosing psychosis is especially important because it can significantly raise the risk of self-harm or infanticide.
- Bipolar Disorder: Between 21–54% of women with postpartum depression also have bipolar disorder. The two conditions often occur together along with psychotic symptoms.
- Anxiety: Anxiety is a common symptom of postpartum depression. Along with postpartum depression, mothers frequently also experience symptoms of anxiety disorders, affecting nearly two-thirds of all women with postpartum depression.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: New mothers have a much higher risk than other women for developing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Women who already have OCD are at risk for their symptoms getting worse after they give birth, especially if they also have postpartum depression.
Rates of Suicide or Infanticide
Intrusive, unwanted thoughts of self-harm or harming their infants are surprisingly common among new mothers. Half of all new mothers report having thoughts like these. Thankfully, these thoughts are not usually linked to an actual risk of causing harm.
Because they are rare, the suicide rate and incidence of infanticide are hard to estimate in cases of postpartum depression. Around 3% of new mothers with depression report having suicidal thoughts, though they don’t always act on them. Infanticide is often caused by postpartum psychosis.
Statistics on Postpartum Depression Treatment
Only half of all new mothers diagnosed with postpartum depression receive treatment for it. When left untreated, postpartum depression can become debilitating, significantly interfering with daily life. Mothers who receive effective treatment during their first month after giving birth have a much better prognosis than if they go untreated.
Treatment for postpartum depression often includes antidepressant medication and counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy. The FDA recently approved a new drug for the treatment of postpartum depression. Called Brexanolone (brand name Zulresso), this is the first medication approved specifically for postpartum depression. The medication works by giving women a low dose of progesterone and estrogen to help make up for the sudden drop in these hormones following childbirth.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others, seek help immediately. Free, confidential help is available 24-7 at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you are affected by postpartum depression and a substance use disorder, consider contacting The Recovery Village. Representatives are available to answer your questions and recommend comprehensive treatment options.
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