Postpartum Depression: What You Should Know

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 29, 2023
4 min read

As a new mom, you face a lot of challenges getting used to life with a newborn. You’re also probably dealing with lack of sleep, new responsibilities, or even breast pain if you’re nursing.

And what about the deep emotional pain that comes after childbirth and won’t let up? Not the milder “baby blues” that typically go away after a week or two. We mean postpartum depression. This is a severe form of clinical depression related to pregnancy and childbirth.

It’s more common than you think. One study of 10,000­ moms with newborns found that about 1 in 7 get postpartum depression. Luckily, most of those women find that treatment helps.

It’s the type of depression you may get after you have a baby. It can start any time during your baby’s first year, but it’s most common for you to start to feel its effects during the first 3 weeks after birth.

If you have it, you might feel sad, hopeless, and guilty because you may not feel like you want to bond with, or care for, your baby.

Postpartum depression doesn’t just affect first-time moms. You can get it even if you didn’t have it when your other children were born.

There are many causes, including:

Hormones. Your hormone levels rise when you’re pregnant. After your baby is born, they drop suddenly. This quick change can trigger depression in some women. (If you ever feel moody before you get your period, you know how hormones can affect you.)

History of depression. If you’ve had depression before, or it runs in your family, you may be more likely to have postpartum depression.

Stress and problems. If you didn’t want to be pregnant, or your partner and family don’t help you care for your baby, you’re more likely to become depressed as a new mom. The condition is also more common among women with money issues, problems with drugs or alcohol, or other big sources of stress.

Very young women who aren’t prepared to care for or support a baby are also at risk.

Yours might not be the same as for other women, but there are common things to look out for:

  • Sadness, loss of hope, despair
  • Feeling unable to care for your baby or do basic chores
  • Crying a lot, sometimes for no real reason
  • Trouble feeling close to your baby, or “bonding”
  • Less interest in food, sex, self-care and other things you used to enjoy
  • Too much sleep
  • Trouble with focus, learning, or memory

Only a doctor can diagnose you with postpartum depression. But if you think you have it, make an appointment right away. If it’s postpartum depression, there are treatments that will get you back to feeling like yourself again.

Medication. Your doctor might decide prescribing you antidepressants will help. These drugs help balance certain brain chemicals linked to depression. Most are safe to take while you breastfeed. Or, they may have you try brexanolone (Zulresso), a new medication that is a synthetic form of the hormone allopregnanolone and is specifically used to treat postpartum depression. Just be sure to let your doctor know if you’re nursing.

Counseling. Talking to a psychologist or therapist also can be a great help. You can learn ways to recognize when you’re having negative thoughts so you know how to deal with them better. You may even discuss past relationships or stresses and learn how to work through those so they don’t affect your life now.

If you’ve been diagnosed with postpartum depression, there are many things you can do to help yourself feel better as you work through your treatment.

  • Exercise daily.
  • Include fun things in your day.
  • Meet simple goals.
  • Relax.
  • Surround yourself with people who care.

This rare and serious form of mental illness can happen with postpartum depression. Symptoms often begin during the first 2 weeks after your baby is born, and are more severe than those for postpartum depression.

  • You can’t sleep.
  • You’re confused. You can’t think clearly.
  • You have hallucinations or delusions, meaning you sense or believe things that aren’t real.
  • You have obsessive and fearful thoughts about your baby.
  • You’re paranoid -- deeply suspicious of other people, and no one can talk you out of it.
  • You refuse to eat.
  • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency. You should get help as soon as you can. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255.

After you get the emergency care you need,  your doctor can help you get better.