Symptoms, Treatments, and Causes of Postpartum Depression

postpartum depression woman

Bringing a child into the world can be one of life’s most beautiful – and most challenging – experiences, happening at the same time. While most parents are overjoyed when they finally get to meet their new baby, the sleepless nights, increased costs, added responsibilities, loss of time and self-identity, and lifestyle changes all take a toll. This opens the door for postpartum depression (PPD) – a type of depression that affects new moms and dads.

This is different from the “baby blues”, the normal stress and exhaustion after birth that usually resolves after a few weeks. PPD goes on for months, and if you or your partner are showing some more serious symptoms, you may be suffering from this medically recognized condition.


Who Is Affected by Postpartum Depression?

PPD can affect anyone who has recently given birth, regardless of age, race, or economic status. In fact, it’s estimated that about 10-20% of new mothers experience some form of PPD, though up to half of those are never diagnosed. It’s important to remember that PPD is not a sign of weakness or failure as a mother. Rather, it’s a medical condition that requires treatment for the health of parents and the baby.

Can Men Experience Postpartum Depression?

Although PPD is more commonly associated with women and mothers, men can also experience depression after the birth of a child. This is sometimes known as paternal postpartum depression. Symptoms are similar to those of PPD and can include feelings of sadness, irritability, and fatigue.

For more specific information on either of these forms of postpartum depression, reach out to one of the therapists at Your Counselling clinic for a personalized discussion of your situation.


Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Feeling moody, anxious, agitated, or exhausted is part of being a new mom or dad, and usually falls under the “baby blues” in the first few weeks. However, if you consistently experience some of the following symptoms, you may have clinical PPD:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, shame, or guilt
  • Trouble bonding with your newborn or withdrawal from your partner, family, and friends
  • Excessive crying or intense anger
  • Feelings of worthlessness or thoughts that you are not a good parent
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate, or make decisions
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Hallucinations, delusions, mania, or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby – these can fall into an extreme form of PPD known as post-partum psychosis, which is a medical emergency and should be treated by a doctor immediately.

If you’re a new mother or father experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to seek help from a mental health professional.


Causes of Postpartum Depression

There is no single, clear cause, but there are identified factors that contribute to the development of PPD. These include:

  • Hormonal Changes: After giving birth, a woman’s hormone levels fluctuate significantly, which can create feelings of depression.
  • Biology/Personality: Mothers and fathers who have a history of depression or anxiety, or who have a history of drug and alcohol abuse, are at a higher risk of developing PPD.
  • Lack of Social Support: Lack of emotional and practical support from family and friends can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which in turn exacerbates symptoms of PPD.
  • Poor Sleep Quality: The sleepless nights that often accompany caring for a newborn can lead to exhaustion and contribute to postpartum depression.

Is Postpartum Depression Common?

PPD is a relatively common condition, affecting up to 20% of new mothers and 10% of fathers. Even adoptive parents have been known to experience it. In Canada specifically, almost 1 in 4 mothers reported feelings associated with postpartum depression in 2019.

It’s speculated that the condition is actually even more common than it appears, since many people are never diagnosed in the first place. This is likely due to lack of medical support and a lack of reported data on parents with miscarriages or stillbirths (which can also cause PPD).


Treating Postpartum Depression

First and foremost, it is important to recognize that having a child is difficult. You’re doing your best, and with the right care and treatment, you can recover from all types of depression (including post-partum) and focus on your baby and your family. There are two primary treatment options available for PPD:

Medication for PPD

Antidepressant medication is often prescribed to treat PPD. These medications work by balancing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, helping to alleviate feelings of depression. However, it’s essential to work closely with your doctor to find the medication that is right for you, as some may not be safe for breastfeeding mothers.

Counselling for PPD

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a common technique used to treat mothers and fathers suffering from postpartum depression. CBT focuses on helping you to recognize and change unrealistic or unhealthy thoughts and teaches behavioural strategies to improve your mood, such as problem-solving skills, stress management, and relaxation techniques.

Improving PPD with Lifestyle Changes

While not a “treatment” per se, making certain lifestyle changes can also be helpful in reducing the symptoms of PPD. While they may not be applicable to you, trying to incorporate them into your daily life can help set a strong foundation for medication and counselling approaches.

  • Proper Sleep: This is difficult for new parents, but if you can, get as much sleep as possible every day. Even short naps through the day can make an impact.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can help to alleviate symptoms of depression by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosters.
  • Healthy eating: Eating a healthy, balanced diet with proper nutrition can improve energy levels and overall health.
  • Social support: Having a strong support network of family and friends is incredibly helpful in alleviating feelings of isolation and loneliness.

If you, your partner, or another new mom or dad you know are experiencing symptoms of PPD, seeking professional help is the best solution for everyone’s benefit.

At Your Counselling Ltd, our therapists specialize in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other effective counselling techniques that help treat postpartum depression for parents in Calgary and area. If you are ready to take the first step towards a happy, healthy life with your new family, contact us today for a free consultation and we will discuss a treatment plan that works for you.