What is depression?
Depression is more than just feeling “blue” or “down in the dumps” for a few days. It’s a serious illness that involves the brain. With depression, sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings don’t go away and interfere with day-to-day life and routines. These feelings can be mild to severe. The good news is that most people with depression get better with treatment.
How common is depression during and after pregnancy?
Depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy. About 13 percent of pregnant women and new mothers have depression.
How do I know if I have depression?
When you are pregnant or after you have a baby, you may be depressed and not know it. Some normal changes during and after pregnancy can cause symptoms similar to those of depression. But if you have any of the following symptoms of depression for more than 2 weeks, call your doctor:
- feeling restless or moody
- feeling sad, hopeless, and overwhelmed
- crying a lot
- having no energy or motivation
- eating too little or too much
- sleeping too little or too much
- having trouble focusing or making decisions
- having memory problems
- feeling worthless and guilty
- losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- withdrawing from friends and family
- having headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems that don’t go away
Your doctor can figure out if your symptoms are caused by depression or something else.
What causes depression? What about postpartum depression?
There is no single cause. Rather, depression likely results from a combination of factors:
- Depression is a mental illness that tends to run in families. Women with a family history of depression are more likely to have depression.
- Changes in brain chemistry or structure are believed to play a big role in depression.
- Stressful life events, such as death of a loved one, caring for an aging family member, abuse, and poverty, can trigger depression.
- Hormonal factors unique to women may contribute to depression in some women. We know that hormones directly affect the brain chemistry that controls emotions and mood. We also know that women are at greater risk of depression at certain times in their lives, such as puberty, during and after pregnancy, and during perimenopause. Some women also have depressive symptoms right before their period.
Depression after childbirth is called postpartum depression. Hormonal changes may trigger symptoms of postpartum depression. When you are pregnant, levels of the female hormones estrogen (ESS-truh-jen) and progesterone (proh-JESS-tur-ohn) increases greatly. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, hormone levels quickly return to normal. Researchers think the big change in hormone levels may lead to depression. This is much like the way smaller hormone changes can affect a woman’s moods before she gets her period.
Levels of thyroid hormones may also drop after giving birth. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that helps regulate how your body uses and stores energy from food. Low levels of thyroid hormones can cause symptoms of depression. A simple blood test can tell if this condition is causing your symptoms. If so, your doctor can prescribe thyroid medicine.
Other factors may play a role in postpartum depression. You may feel:
- tired after delivery
- tired from a lack of sleep or broken sleep
- overwhelmed with a new baby
- doubts about your ability to be a good mother
- stress from changes in work and home routines
- an unrealistic need to be perfect mom
- loss of who you were before having the baby
- less attractive
- a lack of free time