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What is postpartum depression?

They say pregnancy and having a baby is supposed to be the happiest event of your life. Everyone gets excited about the idea, but having a baby is not always what you expect, even if your baby is the cutest one ever born! Having a baby is challenging, both physically and emotionally. It is natural for many new mothers to have mood swings after delivery, feeling happy one minute and depressed the next. These feelings are sometimes known as the “baby blues” and usually start within three days of giving birth and lasting up to 14 days. Up to 80% of mothers experience these blues. Symptoms include sadness, crying spells, poor concentration, and irritability. Reassurance and understanding of what’s going on, taking care of yourself and getting support will help you to feel better. These feelings usually pass without treatment.

Some women, however, after a pregnancy, may experience a deep and ongoing sad mood and depression, which lasts much longer. This is called postpartum depression. This depression can begin at any time within four weeks post-pregnancy, and may last up to several months or even a year. Postpartum depression is a common condition that can be effectively treated and prevented. The sooner the condition is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment.


Below are some typical symptoms. If you have been feeling any of these symptoms for more than two weeks post pregnancy you may have a postpartum depression.

How common is it?

Almost 15% of women will suffer from some degree of postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders after pregnancy and the birth of a baby. Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing. Despite the sensational stories in the media, postpartum depression it is not unusual or scary. It is actually quite common.

What causes it?

It is not your fault. It is not a sign of weakness and you don’t have to suffer and tough it out. The exact cause of this disorder is not known but physical, hormonal, social, psychological and emotional factors may all play a part in triggering this condition. It is important to understand that this is a medical condition and you did not bring it on yourself.

Some women are more likely to develop this disorder. You are more at risk if you have:

How is postpartum depression treated?

There are many safe treatments. As with any medical condition, speak with your health care provider to consider risks and benefits to decide what is best for you. Therapy, support networks and medicines such as antidepressants are used to treat postpartum depression. Counseling and psychotherapy has been shown to be an effective treatment and an acceptable choice for women who wish to avoid taking medications while breastfeeding. Sometimes both treatments may offer the best outcome. And social supports by a public health nurse, friends and family can help.

How can family help?

Family can best help by assisting with meals, laundry, shopping etc. Trying to help by taking care of the baby may be more fun but can undermine a new mother’s confidence in her parenting and interfere with the new bond between mother and child. If you are concerned about a family member developing postpartum depression, encourage them to seek out support and to get checked out by their health care provider. If invited, you can offer to accompany them to their initial appointment and convey your concerns.

Coping with postpartum depression

Firstly, remember that you are not alone and you are not to blame. Here are some suggestions for coping:

More information

For further information about postpartum depression contact a community organization, health care provider or your family doctor to find out about support and resources available in your community.

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