Can you prevent postpartum depression? Strategies to reduce your risk

Can you prevent postpartum depression? Strategies to reduce your risk

Reviewed by:
Wendi Waits, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
July 23, 2023
In this article

Between prenatal check-ups, eating right, exercising, and trying to get enough sleep with your growing belly, pregnancy can feel like a lot. Add to the list: worrying about the health of your baby and yourself both during and after pregnancy. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common worry amongst moms-to-be, and about 1 in 9 new mothers experience it.

Learn about what postpartum depression is, what causes it, how you can reduce your risk, and what you can do if you do develop PPD.

What is postpartum depression?

Because postpartum depression is a mental health condition that many women experience, it’s crucial to understand what it is, why it occurs, and what the symptoms may be.

Baby blues

The birth of a new baby can bring on a flood of emotions—for both parents. In the weeks right after giving birth, it’s common to feel heightened emotions, mood swings, and sadness. And you might not feel connected to your baby right away. These feelings can be typical and are often referred to as the “baby blues.”

But if these symptoms are severe, last longer than 2 weeks, or if you are concerned you may harm yourself or your baby—you may be experiencing a condition called post-partum depression.

Postpartum depression (PPD)

Postpartum depression is a specific type of depression that typically occurs as early as 4 weeks after delivery but can appear later, up to 6 months after giving birth. Some symptoms of post-partum depression overlap with those of depression but may include more severe symptoms that can affect the health of both mom and baby. Postpartum depression is sometimes referred to as postnatal depression or ‘peripartum depression’ which starts during pregnancy and can continue after delivery.

What are the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression?

Symptoms of postpartum depression can range from mild to severe and will look different for everyone. Motherhood can be challenging, especially in the beginning, but if you’re having trouble taking care of yourself or your baby, or if you’re having thoughts of harm, reach out to your healthcare provider right away or call the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline which offers 24-hour support for anyone in a mental health crisis.

Here are the most common symptoms of PPD:

  • Hopelessness
  • Sadness
  • Excessive crying
  • Irrational anger
  • Decreased interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling withdrawn from social support
  • Trouble bonding with baby
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Feeling like a failure as a mother

Postpartum psychosis vs. postpartum depression (PPD) 

Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition that typically presents in the first week after birth. Postpartum psychosis signs and symptoms may include paranoia, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions about harming oneself or the baby, or obsessive thoughts about the baby. 

Postpartum psychosis can be scary, but treatment works and it’s important to seek care right away. Call your healthcare provider or dial 988 suicide and crisis prevention hotline if you think you or a loved one may be experiencing postpartum psychosis.

What causes postpartum depression (PPD)?

Postpartum depression doesn’t have a specific cause. Researchers think that hormone fluctuations and genetics may all play a role in the development of postpartum depression. 

Hormone fluctuations 

During pregnancy, your hormone levels are at an all-time high. They drop dramatically after you give birth which can lead to some of the classic symptoms of baby blues. Researchers think that hormone fluctuations, specifically the drop in progesterone, may also contribute to the onset of postpartum depression (PPD).

But you don’t have to be the birthing parent to experience baby blues or PPD. Any new parent may experience changes in mood or mental health conditions with the arrival of a new baby, as it is a significant life event.

Genetics

Although researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint specific genes that may contribute to the development of postpartum depression (PPD), they think there may be a genetic component at play that might make certain women more prone to postpartum depression (PPD).

What are the risk factors for postpartum depression?

Around 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with PPD. It’s one of the most common complications of pregnancy. Any new mom may be diagnosed with PPD but there are some factors that can lead to an increased risk of developing the condition:

  • Diagnoses of depression during pregnancy (perinatal depression) 
  • History of depression or other mood disorders, like bipolar disorder 
  • Family history of postpartum depression 
  • Difficulty breastfeeding 
  • Experiencing abuse during pregnancy or a history of abuse
  • High stress
  • Childcare stress
  • Hesitancy about motherhood
  • Lack of social support
  • Dissatisfaction with your partner
  • Income level
  • Confidence in your ability to take care of your baby
  • Traumatic birth or labor that didn’t go according to plan

Can you prevent postpartum depression?

New mothers often feel that PPD is a character flaw or caused by something they did either during pregnancy or after delivery. It’s important to remember that any new mom can experience PPD and while there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

What can I do to avoid postpartum depression (PPD)?

While you can’t prevent postpartum depression, or any other mental health condition for that matter, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.

Stay in touch with your doctor

Most of the focus during your doctor’s appointments will be on your growing belly, but your mental health is also an important part of pre and postnatal care. Your doctor or obstetrician will screen you for PPD as part of your prenatal and postnatal check-ups, so it’s important to attend all your appointments and follow-ups and reach out to your doctor if you aren’t quite feeling like yourself or if your mental health is making it hard to go about your daily life. 

Your child’s pediatrician may also check in with you about how you’re feeling after your baby is born. Remember, PPD doesn’t always develop right away. Symptoms may start up to 6 months after giving birth.

Seek support from loved ones

You’ve heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child!” There’s a reason this phrase is still repeated today. When it comes to motherhood, having a support system is essential and can help improve mental well-being. 

If it’s an option for you, reach out to your partner, family members, or friends who will be there to support you in the postpartum period. Let them know how they can help reduce your stress. It might feel hard to reach out but remember, most people are excited to help!

Find a support group

It’s not just loved ones that can support you during the postpartum period. Even if you don’t have someone helping you change diapers or do middle-of-the-night feedings, it’s beneficial to have someone to talk to when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Support groups for new moms can also be a great place to meet new friends. Get creative, search for prenatal or postnatal fitness groups or classes, or walking groups in your area.

Stick to your treatment plan

Having depression before or during pregnancy can increase your risk for PPD. You can reduce your risk by sticking to any medications or treatments that your doctor has recommended during pregnancy. Many anti-depressants are safe to use throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. If medication is part of your treatment plan, chat with your doctor about finding one that you’re comfortable taking.

Practice self-care during pregnancy and postpartum

Between nausea, fatigue, and other digestive woes that you may experience as a result of growing a human, it can be hard to eat right and stay active during pregnancy. Do your best! Since high stress can increase your risk for PPD, it’s important to do things to manage it. Carve out time for relaxation and plan activities that help you feel at ease. Maybe that means laying on the couch watching TV or taking a walk outside. 

Prepare for motherhood

This one sounds daunting as you might never feel fully prepared for becoming a new mom— and that’s okay! But if you’re having doubts about your ability to raise a child or be a “good”
mom, do what you can to address those doubts before the baby comes. 

This might mean talking to your partner about your concerns, working with a therapist, reading up on parenting books, or taking a prenatal class. Either way, do what you can to prepare for the birth of the baby so that you feel confident in your ability to care for your child. It can help you reduce your risk of postpartum depression (PPD). If you’re reading this blog—you’re already doing great!

Seek professional help if you need it

If you do develop postpartum depression, it’s important to reach out for help as soon as possible. PPD isn’t something you can will away or tough out. Treatment works and can help you get back to feeling like yourself.

How is postpartum depression (PPD) treated?

PPD is typically treated with medication, therapy or both.

Talk therapy

Talk therapy, like CBT, is usually the first line of defense against postpartum depression. If you aren’t connected with a therapist before giving birth, ask your primary care doctor or OBGYN to provide a referral. You can also check with your insurance company to find a list of therapists that are in-network. 

As a new mom you may feel like you don’t have time to go to a therapist. That’s totally understandable. Luckily, there are lots of virtual therapy options so you can take your appointments without having to leave your home (or your new baby).

Medications

Depending on your symptoms and needs, your healthcare provider may recommend certain medications as part of your treatment plan. If you’re breastfeeding, you may be worried about whether or not medication will affect your baby. Chat with your provider. There are many medications that are safe for mothers who may be breastfeeding. The most common ones fall into three categories. 

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs work by promoting serotonin (AKA your ‘happy hormone’) in your brain. Some common SSRI’s are: citalopram (Celexa®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®, Pexeva®) and sertraline (Zoloft®).

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs work by promoting levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine,two brain chemicals that support your mood and regulate anxiety. Some common SNRI’s are: Desvenlafaxine (Khedezla®, Pristiq®), Duloxetine (Cymbalta®, Drizalma®, Irenka®), Levomilnacipran (Fetzima®), Milnacipran (Savella®), Venlafaxine (Effexor®).

Bupropion (Wellbutrin®)

Wellbutrin works by increasing levels of certain mood-promoting brain chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine.

What happens if postpartum depression is left untreated?

If left untreated, postpartum depression can make it hard to care for yourself or your baby and may take a toll on your relationship with your partner or support person as well. Parenting is hard work, especially if you are living with symptoms of postpartum depression. As parents, we all want what’s best for our child and seeking treatment for PPD can help you bond with and care for your child.

Support for postpartum depression with Talkiatry

With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home, and you can schedule your first appointment in a matter of days. To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.

About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away. 

Sources:

What is Peripartum Depression (formerly Postpartum)? | Psychiatry.org 

The Role of Reproductive Hormones in Postpartum Depression | PMC

FDA Approves New Treatment for Postpartum Depression | University of Utah Health.

Depression during pregnancy and postpartum | PubMed

Relation between perceived stress, social support, and coping strategies and maternal well-being: a review of the literature | NCBI

Dr. Waits is board certified in General Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Lifestyle Medicine. She is a military veteran and has served innumerous leadership and academic positions over the course of her career, primarily in hospital-based settings and during combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Waits treats a wide array of mental health conditions in individuals of all ages. She enjoys providing holistic, collaborative, patient-centered care that is focused on identifying and addressing the root causes of symptoms, including early childhood events, medical conditions, environmental factors, nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Her areas of greatest clinical expertise include lifestyle medicine, treatment of psychological trauma, veteran/military mental healthcare, and adolescent psychiatry.

Patients treated by Dr. Waits can expect a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, a multi-dimensional assessment of factors contributing to current issues, screening for underlying medical conditions, safety planning, lifestyle recommendations, medication management, and brief psychotherapy when indicated.

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