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Postpartum depression: More than the baby blues

Becoming a mom changes you forever — and that includes your mental and emotional state of being. How could you not be altered by suddenly having a tiny person who relies on you, and who you love and want to protect more fiercely than you could have imagined?

As a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, I care for the health of babies and children, but I’m also interested in the overall health of the family. That’s why I make sure to talk to moms about how they are adjusting to having a new baby. Moms and dads have a wide range of feelings during this challenging time, and that can include depression. In fact, depression and anxiety are the most common complications of childbirth.

What is postpartum depression?

Most women — about 80 percent — experience the “baby blues” immediately after birth. This is a normal, temporary phase when women may have mood swings, tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, or changes in appetite. Baby blues arrive within a week of delivery and typically go away within two weeks.

Postpartum depression is different — but not uncommon. About one in seven women suffer from this condition, but only 15 percent of those get treatment. Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to interest you
  • Feeling more irritable or angry
  • Excessive guilt or worry
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Severe fatigue
  • Recurrent upsetting thoughts

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician right away.

Effects on the whole family

Not only is postpartum depression or anxiety harmful for moms, it can also be harmful to kids. A mother’s depression can, over time, negatively impact a baby’s development in several ways:

  • Less opportunity for infant/mother bonding, which can interfere with breastfeeding and mother-child attachment
  • Cognitive delays including increased time to detect faces and less exploration
  • Increased behavioral problems in preschoolers and adolescent

Moms aren’t the only ones to suffer from postnatal depression — up to 25 percent of dads experience it, too.

The highest risk for dads is 3-6 months after delivery, and symptoms may come on more gradually than a mother’s. Just like maternal depression, dad’s depression can negatively affect infant care or bonding, and adds stress to the family.

Getting help

The good news is, there are treatments for postpartum depression that are well-researched and very effective. If you think you may have postpartum depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.