Diagnosis

If you experience any of the following symptoms after your baby is born and the symptoms don’t go away after two weeks, you should call your doctor to discuss postpartum depression:

  • You feel sad or anxious and have major mood swings for more than two weeks.
  • Your symptoms of depression become increasingly severe.
  • You experience symptoms of depression at any time, even months after your baby is born.
  • You’re having trouble performing tasks at work and at home.
  • You’re not able to care for yourself or your baby.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Be prepared to discuss with your doctor the symptoms described above, as well and your personal medical history, a personal or family history of mental health problems, and stressful events or circumstances that may be contributing to your sadness or anxiety.

Treatment

Treatment for postpartum depression may include two main parts: counseling and medication.

You may first discuss your concerns about postpartum depression with your regular doctor (your primary care doctor or OBGYN, for example), but he or she may refer you to a mental health specialist for further treatment or counseling (also called talk therapy). Mental health specialists include therapists, psychologists, and social workers. With these specialists, you’ll discuss postpartum depression and learn ways to change how it affects you.

Medication for postpartum depression includes antidepressant medicines as well as hormone therapy (estrogen replacement), which may help counteract the drop in estrogen at the time of childbirth. Both types of medication are prescribed by your doctor. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of antidepressants and hormone therapy, especially if you are breastfeeding.

In addition to medical treatment of postpartum depression, you can take measures that will help you feel better. These include:

  • Get as much rest as possible. Sleep when the baby is sleeping.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by staying physically active, eating nutritious foods, and avoiding alcohol.
  • Set realistic goals: don’t try to do much or be perfect.
  • Ask your partner, family, and friends for help.
  • Visit with friends, spend time with your partner, or do something enjoyable on your own.
  • Discuss your feelings with your partner, family, and friends, as well as with other mothers who have had similar experiences.
  • Join a support group. Your doctor may be able to help you find one.
  • Don’t make any major life changes during pregnancy or immediately after giving birth. If a big change can’t be avoided, find support to help you make the transition.

Why Treatment Is Important
Postpartum depression can affect your own health as well as your ability to care for your baby—this makes early and effective treatment critical. Problems among children of mothers affected by postpartum depression may include delays in language development, problems with mother-child bonding, behavior problems, and increased crying. If postpartum depression is not treated, it can last up to a year or longer and may become a chronic depressive disorder.

Resources

National Institute of Mental Health

Postpartum Education for Parents

Postpartum Support International

Sources

Depression During and After Pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site.  Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/depression-pregnancy.cfm. Accessed August 2010.

Postpartum Depression. The Mayo Clinic Web site. Available at:http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/postpartum-depression/ds00546.

Accessed August 2010.