“Postpartum depression” is a well-known term that describes a depressive disorder that has its onset after the birth of a child. You might be surprised to learn that in the most recent edition of the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) this term was eliminated due to new evidence that shows that about half of birth-related depression begins during pregnancy. This would be inconsistent with the term postpartum since the prefix “post” means “after” which therefore implies that the onset is exclusively after a birth. Hence, the new diagnostic term is “depressive disorder with peripartum onset”. The prefix “peri” means around or near, therefore this condition reflects the tendency of depression to emerge either before or after a birth.
The symptoms of peripartum depression are similar to that of depression in general with the addition of a few symptoms that are unique to childbirth, such as difficulty bonding with the baby, feeling inadequate in taking care of the baby, and fear about harming the baby or herself.
This condition should not be confused with “baby blues” which is a colloquial term referring to the very common occurrence of a relatively brief episode of depression that affects most women who give birth. The difference between baby blues and depression is in its duration and severity. The symptoms of baby blues tend to be relatively mild and typically resolve themselves within two weeks.
The causes of peripartum depression are unclear. It is probably due to a variety of factors that include hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and being overwhelmed with the care of a new baby. Women who lack social support can be at a greater risk.
Surprisingly, prior births without depression do not preclude a depressive episode with a later birth. It is actually quite common for a woman to have multiple births with no symptoms of depression at all and then develop an acute case of depression with a subsequent birth.
The treatment for peripartum depression is similar to regular depression, which is psychotherapy, medication, or both. Your doctor will guide you as to which medications can be taken during pregnancy or by nursing mothers. If left untreated, peripartum depression can become chronic. Even those who are in treatment need to bear in mind that terminating treatment as soon as you start feeling better can lead to a relapse.
As with mental health disorders in general, peripartum depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people deal with mental illness at some point during their lives. Self-stigma should not be a hurdle for seeking appropriate treatment.