What is postpartum depression mainly caused by?

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a serious mental health condition that affects many new mothers. It involves a complex interplay of physical, emotional, and hormonal changes that can lead to severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the baby, and even thoughts of suicide in some cases. While it is challenging to pinpoint a single cause, numerous factors contribute to the development of postpartum depression.

 Hormonal Shifts

One of the leading causes of postpartum depression involves the substantial hormonal fluctuations in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy. In the immediate postpartum period, levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone drop rapidly. This sudden decline can contribute to mood instability and depression. Additionally, thyroid hormones, which help regulate the body’s energy, can drop postpartum, leading to symptoms like tiredness, weight gain, and depression.

Physical Changes

Giving birth is physically demanding and can cause numerous changes in a woman’s body, which might lead to postpartum depression. These changes include drastic weight loss or gain, changes in blood volume and pressure, and depletion of nutrients. Not to mention, the sleep deprivation accompanying the care of a newborn can significantly impact a mother’s mood and energy levels, contributing to depression.

 Emotional Factors

The emotional stress and changes associated with becoming a new parent can play a significant role in the onset of postpartum depression. Adjusting to parenthood, dealing with increased responsibilities, and managing expectations about motherhood can all lead to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and unhappiness. Mothers may also feel pressure to bond with their babies or to be happy during what society deems should be a joyous time, increasing feelings of guilt and inadequacy if they struggle to meet these expectations.

 Personal History

A history of depression or other mental health conditions can predispose a woman to postpartum depression. Similarly, women who have experienced depression or anxiety during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. Also, those with severe PMS or PMDD may have a greater likelihood of postpartum depression due to their sensitivity to hormonal changes.

Environmental Factors

A lack of supportive relationships or stressful life events—such as financial difficulties, a death in the family, or a major move—can also increase the likelihood of postpartum depression. The social and environmental context can exacerbate feelings of isolation, stress, and overwhelm, potentially triggering depressive symptoms.

Biological Factors

While still under research, some evidence suggests there may be a genetic component to postpartum depression, as it seems to occur more frequently in women with family members who have suffered from it or other forms of depression. Further studies are needed to elucidate the role of genetics and epigenetics in postpartum depression.

Causes of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a complex condition with a multifaceted origin. Its causes can be broadly divided into six main categories: hormonal changes, physical changes, emotional factors, personal history, environmental factors, and biological factors.

  • Hormonal Changes: Pregnancy and childbirth induce significant hormonal fluctuations. Estrogen and progesterone, in particular, see a rapid drop after birth, which can trigger mood swings and depressive symptoms. Also, thyroid hormones that help regulate energy in the body can decrease postpartum, leading to feelings of fatigue and depression.
  • Physical Changes: The physical strain of pregnancy and delivery can take a toll on a woman’s body, potentially contributing to postpartum depression. These physical changes include weight fluctuation, blood volume and pressure changes, nutrient depletion, and general discomfort from the birth process. Moreover, the sleep deprivation often comes with caring for a newborn can greatly affect a mother’s mood and energy levels.
  • Emotional Factors: Becoming a new parent can bring about significant emotional stress. Adjusting to new responsibilities and expectations can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. The societal pressure to immediately bond with the baby or always appear happy can also increase feelings of guilt and inadequacy if a mother struggles with these aspects of parenthood.
  • Personal History: A history of depression or other mental health conditions can predispose a woman to postpartum depression. Women who have previously experienced depressive episodes or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk than those who have had severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which might indicate a heightened sensitivity to hormonal changes.
  • Environmental Factors: External factors, such as a lack of supportive relationships or stressful life events like financial difficulties or a family death, can increase the risk of developing postpartum depression. Such conditions can add to the feelings of stress, isolation, and overwhelm, potentially triggering depressive symptoms.
  • Biological Factors: Although further research is needed, there is some evidence to suggest that genetic factors may play a role in postpartum depression. The condition seems to occur more frequently in women with family members who have suffered from postpartum depression or other forms of depression.

It’s important to understand that postpartum depression can affect any new mother, regardless of the presence or absence of these factors. The symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, but they’re not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It’s crucial for anyone experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression to seek medical help, as the condition is highly treatable, and full recovery is possible with appropriate care and support.

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

While postpartum depression can affect any new mother, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of its onset. It’s crucial to remember, though, that having these risk factors doesn’t guarantee the development of the condition, just as their absence doesn’t rule it out. Here are the key risk factors:

  • Previous Mental Health Disorders: Women with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or previous episodes of postpartum depression are at an increased risk of developing postpartum depression.
  • Depression or Anxiety during Pregnancy: Mental health issues that occur during pregnancy can be a strong predictor for postpartum depression.
  • Family History: A family history of depression, postpartum depression, or other mental health disorders can increase a woman’s risk of postpartum depression.
  • Stressful Life Events: Experiencing stressful events during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, such as financial difficulties, job loss, death of a loved one, a difficult birth, or illness in the baby, can increase the likelihood of postpartum depression.
  • Lack of Social Support: Women who lack a strong social network of family, friends, or a supportive partner can be more vulnerable to postpartum depression.
  • Hormonal Sensitivity: Some women may be more sensitive to hormonal changes, which can predispose them to mood disorders, including postpartum depression.
  • Substance Abuse: Women with a history of alcohol or drug abuse are at a higher risk of postpartum depression.
  • Breastfeeding Difficulties: Women who have trouble breastfeeding may be more prone to postpartum depression due to feelings of failure, guilt, or frustration.
  • Unexpected Pregnancy Complications: If pregnancy or delivery is especially difficult or life-threatening, or if the baby has health problems, a mother might be more likely to experience postpartum depression.
  • Multiple Births: Mothers of twins, triplets, or more may face increased stress and fatigue, putting them at higher risk of postpartum depression.

Understanding these risk factors can help in the early detection and intervention of postpartum depression. If you or someone you know is at risk, seek help from healthcare providers, who can monitor for signs of postpartum depression and provide appropriate support and treatment if needed.

Complications of Postpartum Depression

Untreated postpartum depression can lead to severe complications for the mother and the child. It’s important to note that these complications are not inevitable and can be mitigated or prevented with prompt and effective treatment. The potential complications include:

  • Chronic Depressive Disorder: If left untreated, postpartum depression can become a long-term (chronic) depressive disorder. Chronic depression can affect a woman’s health and well-being and disrupt her ability to function effectively.
  • Bonding Difficulties: Postpartum depression can interfere with a mother’s ability to bond with her newborn. This lack of early maternal-infant bonding can influence the child’s behaviour and development.
  • Family Issues: Postpartum depression can strain relationships with the partner, other children, and family members. It can cause family and marital stress, especially if the condition goes untreated.
  • Suicide Risk: In severe cases, postpartum depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts. Suicide accounts for a significant proportion of postpartum deaths and should be taken seriously.
  • Infant Developmental Issues: Children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression may have difficulties with emotional development, cognitive development, and social interaction. They may be more prone to behavioural problems and psychiatric disorders later in life.
  • Future Mental Health Problems: Women who have experienced postpartum depression are at a higher risk of experiencing future episodes of depression or other mental health conditions.

Prevention of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a prevalent mental health issue affecting numerous mothers worldwide. It typically manifests within the first year after childbirth and can have significant psychological, physical, and social implications for the mother and the child. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes it as a serious illness that can interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself and her family. Preventing PPD is a critical focus in maternal and infant health. This article will discuss strategies and interventions to help prevent postpartum depression.

Prenatal Education

Prenatal education about the risk and nature of PPD is essential. Many women are unprepared for the psychological changes that accompany childbirth. Education about what to expect, the signs and symptoms of PPD, and when to seek help can be a key preventative measure. Antenatal classes, one-on-one sessions with healthcare providers and online resources can serve as platforms for this education.

 Regular Mental Health Screenings

Regular mental health screenings during the prenatal and postnatal period allow healthcare providers to monitor mood changes and identify early signs of PPD. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is a widely used tool. Women should be encouraged to express their feelings and concerns during these screenings honestly.

Social Support

A strong social support system has been linked to lower rates of PPD. This includes support from the spouse, family members, friends, or support groups. New mothers often find it beneficial to connect with other mothers experiencing similar challenges, either in-person or via online forums and social media.

Physical Health

Maintaining physical health is also a crucial part of preventing PPD. This can include a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and postnatal check-ups. A healthy body often contributes to a healthier mind, and women who care for their physical health are generally better equipped to handle the emotional challenges of new motherhood.

Professional Mental Health Support

Professional mental health support may benefit women with a history of depression or anxiety, experienced complications during pregnancy, or who show early signs of PPD. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are two therapeutic approaches proven effective for treating and potentially preventing PPD.


Medication might be an appropriate preventative measure in some cases, especially for those with a history of severe mental health disorders. Antidepressants are commonly used, but the decision to use medication should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider and consider potential risks and benefits, including the impact on breastfeeding.

In conclusion, preventing postpartum depression requires an integrated approach involving education, regular screenings, social support, physical health maintenance, professional mental health support, and, in some cases, medication. It is also essential to foster an open dialogue about mental health in the context of pregnancy and motherhood, as stigma often prevents women from seeking the help they need. The strategies outlined in this article are not exhaustive but represent important steps towards preventing PPD and supporting the well-being of mothers and their families.

Recognizing Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder affecting some women after childbirth. It is a significant public health concern, given its potential to negatively affect the well-being of both the mother and the newborn. Understanding the signs and symptoms of PPD is crucial for early detection, intervention, and treatment.

 Depressed Mood or Severe Mood Swings

One of the most recognizable symptoms of PPD is a prolonged period of sadness or depressed mood. Mothers with PPD might experience severe mood swings, ranging from extreme sadness to intense irritability or anger.

Excessive Crying

Crying more than usual, often without a clear reason, can signify PPD. This crying might not seem to have any specific trigger and can feel uncontrollable.

 Difficulty Bonding with Your Baby

Difficulty bonding or forming an emotional attachment with the newborn is often reported in mothers experiencing PPD. They might feel indifferent or not connected to their baby.

 Withdrawing from Family and Friends

A woman suffering from PPD may withdraw from her partner, other children, family, and friends. She might avoid social interactions and prefer to spend time alone.

 Changes in Appetite or Eating Habits

PPD can result in significant changes in eating habits. This can include overeating or, conversely, having little interest in food.

Sleep Disturbances

Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) or, conversely, hypersomnia (oversleeping) can be indicative of PPD. The mother might feel constantly tired or have no energy.

Intense Irritability and Anger

Feeling irritable or even angry is common in PPD. Small annoyances might seem excessively irritating, and the mother might have a low tolerance for frustration.

Feelings of Worthlessness or Inadequacy

PPD often brings with it feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or inadequacy. Mothers might feel that they are not good enough mothers, or they might struggle with feelings of guilt or shame.

 Diminished Interest or Pleasure in Activities

Lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed is a common sign of PPD. This can include losing interest in the baby, sex, hobbies, work, or social activities.

 Severe Anxiety or Panic Attacks

PPD can manifest as anxiety, including constant worry, racing thoughts, or even panic attacks. Some mothers might feel a fear of being alone with their babies.

Thoughts of Harming Yourself or Your Baby

In severe cases, PPD can lead to thoughts of harming oneself or the baby. This is an emergency situation that requires immediate attention and help.

It’s important to understand that these symptoms can occur at any point within the first year after childbirth, though they most commonly appear within the first three weeks.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek help immediately. Postpartum depression is a serious condition, but it is treatable with professional service. Always consult a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options, as self-diagnosis can often be unreliable. If you’re feeling suicidal or thinking of harming your baby, it’s crucial to contact a healthcare professional immediately or call an emergency hotline.

Types of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a term commonly used to describe a range of mood disorders that can affect women after childbirth. While the term ‘postpartum depression’ is often used as an umbrella term, it’s essential to understand the different manifestations of PPD to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Here are the key types of postpartum mood disorders:

Baby Blues

While not a form of depression, ‘baby blues’ are worth mentioning as they are extremely common, affecting up to 80% of new mothers. The symptoms typically appear a few days after childbirth and can include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, and problems sleeping. These symptoms are generally mild and resolve independently within a couple of weeks.

 Postpartum Depression (PPD)

PPD is a more severe form of mood disturbance that can occur after childbirth, characterized by persistent sadness, extreme mood swings, and a lack of interest in the baby or other activities. Women with PPD may also experience sleep and appetite disturbances, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and in severe cases, thoughts of suicide or harm to the baby. PPD often requires treatment with psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication.

Postpartum Anxiety

While anxiety is often a component of PPD, some women may primarily experience symptoms of anxiety, such as constant worry, feelings of dread, and physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes, and rapid heartbeat. Postpartum anxiety is sometimes overlooked but can be just as debilitating as PPD.

Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (P-OCD)

P-OCD is a form of postpartum anxiety where women may have intrusive and repetitive thoughts or mental images (obsessions) related to the baby. These can include fears about accidentally harming the baby or worries about the baby’s health. The mother may also engage in compulsive behaviours to reduce these fears. P-OCD, while distressing, does not involve the mother wanting to harm the baby.

Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P-PTSD)

Women who have experienced traumatic childbirth, characterized by feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror, may develop P-PTSD. Symptoms can include flashbacks of the traumatic event, feelings of irritability or outbursts of anger, and difficulty sleeping.

 Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is rare but is the most severe form of postpartum psychiatric illness. It often occurs within the first two weeks after delivery. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, extreme confusion, rapid mood swings, and attempts to harm oneself or the baby. Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

While linked to the postpartum period, each condition has unique characteristics and treatments. Recognizing these differences is important to ensure women receive the most appropriate care. If you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of these conditions, contact a healthcare professional immediately. It’s important to remember there’s no shame in seeking help; these are medical conditions that can be effectively treated with the right support and intervention.

Postpartum Depression Treatment

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a severe mental health disorder that can affect women after childbirth, characterized by profound feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair that can interfere with a woman’s ability to function. Fortunately, various effective treatment options can help women manage and overcome PPD. Here are the main approaches to treating postpartum depression:


Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is an effective way of treating PPD. The two most common forms are:

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This approach helps women identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours that may contribute to their depression.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): This therapy focuses on improving the quality of a woman’s interpersonal relationships and social functioning to reduce her symptoms of depression.


Antidepressant medications are a common treatment for PPD and work by balancing chemicals in the brain that affect mood. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are typically the first-line treatment options. Antidepressants usually take a few weeks to start working, and their use should be monitored closely by a healthcare provider, especially when initiating or ending the treatment.

 Hormone Therapy

Estrogen replacement therapy may help counteract the rapid drop in estrogen following childbirth, which may contribute to mood swings. However, this approach is less common than others and is typically used when other treatments aren’t effective. Discussing the potential risks and benefits with a healthcare provider is important.

 Peer Support

Support groups, either in person or online, can benefit women with PPD. Sharing experiences and coping strategies with others going through the same thing can help women feel less alone and more understood.

 Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can complement other treatment strategies, including maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and limiting alcohol and caffeine. Mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, and controlled breathing exercises can also be helpful.

Newer Treatments

In recent years, newer treatment modalities have been approved, such as Brexanolone, a medication administered intravenously and specifically authorised by the FDA for treating postpartum depression. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is another treatment used in severe or life-threatening cases or when other treatments have not worked.

PPD can be incredibly challenging for new mothers and their families, but it’s crucial to remember that help is available, and recovery is entirely possible. Different treatments work better for other individuals, so women may need to try several methods before finding the best. If you or someone you know may be suffering from PPD, please get in touch with a healthcare provider immediately. Remember, asking for help is okay, and seeking treatment is the first step to feeling better.

Postpartum Depression
Postpartum Depression

Frequently Asked Questions

 What causes postpartum depression (PPD)?

The exact cause of PPD is unknown, but it’s likely a combination of physical and emotional factors. After childbirth, the drastic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) can lead to mood swings. Other factors such as sleep deprivation, a challenging birth, personal or family history of depression, or other life stressors can also contribute.

Can PPD affect my baby?

Yes, untreated PPD can affect your baby. It might interfere with your ability to care for and bond with your newborn, affecting their development and behaviour.

How is PPD different from the ‘baby blues’?

The ‘baby blues’ term describes mild mood changes and feelings of worry, unhappiness, and fatigue that many women experience after childbirth. ‘Baby blues’ symptoms usually start a few days after delivery and go away independently after about two weeks. PPD, on the other hand, is more severe and long-lasting. The feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness are intense and can interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family.

 Can you have PPD after a miscarriage or stillbirth?

Yes, women can experience PPD after a miscarriage or stillbirth. The hormonal changes, coupled with the grief and trauma of losing a baby, can trigger PPD.

How long after childbirth can you get PPD?

PPD often begins within the first few weeks after childbirth, but it can also start later — up to a year after birth.

Can fathers or partners get PPD?

Yes, fathers or partners can experience a form of postpartum depression. Although they don’t go through the physical changes of childbirth, the stress and changes in sleep and lifestyle can lead to symptoms of depression. This is often referred to as paternal postnatal depression (PPND).

How long does PPD last?

The length of PPD can vary greatly among women. With appropriate treatment, most women start to feel better within a few weeks, but for others, it may take several months or longer. Early detection and treatment can help speed up recovery.

 Is PPD preventable?

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent PPD. However, steps such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, receiving mental health screenings during pregnancy, and having strong emotional support can reduce the risk.

How is PPD treated?

Treatment for PPD often involves psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication (like antidepressants), or a combination of both. Support groups and lifestyle changes can also be beneficial.

Can I breastfeed while taking medication for PPD?

Some medications for PPD are safe to use while breastfeeding, but others might not be. You should always discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.

Remember, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PPD, it’s crucial to seek help from a healthcare professional. There’s no need to suffer alone; effective treatments are available, and asking for help is completely okay.


Postpartum depression is a multifactorial condition arising from a complex interplay of hormonal, physical, emotional, personal, environmental, and biological factors. As every woman’s experience with pregnancy and motherhood differs, so does their experience with postpartum depression. Therefore, it’s vital to maintain open lines of communication with healthcare providers and to seek help if symptoms of depression occur during the postpartum period. It’s important to remember that postpartum depression is treatable, and with the right care, women can fully recover.

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