Understanding Postpartum Depression

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Editor’s Note: For simplicity and ease of reading, in this community, we use the term “mothers” to refer to pregnant people and those who have given birth. But we want to acknowledge that not all people who can get pregnant identify as women and that some people who give birth identify as men or nonbinary. We also recognize that parenthood exists in many forms, including adoptive and foster parenthood. Health Union strives to create an inclusive space while providing accurate health information.

Welcoming a new baby into the world can be a joyous and heartwarming experience. However, for many new parents, the reality can be quite different. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a condition that affects some mothers after childbirth.1

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression, often referred to as PPD, is a type of depression that occurs after giving birth. The term “postpartum” means “after birth.”1,2

PPD is also referred to as peripartum depression because it can occur during pregnancy as well as after pregnancy. “Peripartum” means the period of time before, during, and after giving birth.1,2

It is common to have mood swings and emotional ups and downs during and after pregnancy. This is because the body is going through many hormonal shifts that can affect your mood. These “baby blues,” as they are often called, usually go away within about 1 or 2 weeks.1,2

But PPD is different. PPD is more severe and long-lasting. PPD can last for weeks, months, or in some cases even longer.1,2

PPD is not a sign of weakness or a lack of love. These are harmful misconceptions. Rather, postpartum depression is a medical condition that requires medical attention and support.1,2

Who does it affect?

Postpartum depression is more common than you might think. It can affect any person who has recently given birth, whether it is their first child or their ninth. Estimates vary, but experts think about 10 to 15 percent of new mothers develop PPD. Fathers and partners can also be affected by postpartum depression.2

Who is at risk?

Postpartum depression can affect anyone. But some risk factors may increase a person’s risk of developing this condition. These risk factors include:1,2

  • Personal or family history of depression – If you or a close family member have experienced depression or other mental health disorders, you might be at a higher risk for PPD.
  • Rapid hormonal changes – The sudden drop in hormones after childbirth can contribute to mood swings and emotional challenges.
  • Stressful life events – Life stressors, such as financial problems or relationship issues, may make you more likely to experience PPD.
  • Lack of support – A strong support system can make a big difference during the postpartum period. On the other hand, feeling isolated or unsupported can increase the risk of PPD.
  • Medical conditions – Your physical health can affect your mental health as well. If you had complications during pregnancy or childbirth, you may be more likely to develop PPD.

Symptoms of postpartum depression

Postpartum depression can show up in many ways. Its symptoms might not be recognizable at first. But PPD puts both mother and baby at risk, so it is very important to understand the signs and symptoms.1,2

Some common signs of PPD include:1,2

  • Feeling very sad or crying for no apparent reason
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Intense mood swings, from irritability to hopelessness
  • Anxiety, excessive worry, restlessness, or panic attacks
  • Having persistent feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or not being a good enough parent
  • Fear or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

PPD is very serious. It can have negative effects on you and your baby. For instance, it can cause feeding and sleeping problems for you and your baby. In fact, PPD has been linked to an increased risk of babies not breastfeeding.1,2

If you are having persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety that affect your ability to care for yourself and your baby, reach out to your doctor.1,2

Treatment for postpartum depression

The good news is that postpartum depression is treatable. One or a combination of the following are available:1,2

  • Therapy
  • Prescription drugs
  • Strong social support
  • Self-care techniques


Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can provide a safe space to talk about your feelings and develop coping strategies. Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy or counseling.1,2

Prescription drugs

Several medicines can be used to treat PPD. These medicines include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. They also include the newer class of neuroactive steroid GABA(A) receptor-positive modulators.1,3,4

Strong social support

Social support – both inside and outside the home – is essential for people with postpartum depression. Isolation only makes PPD worse. Reach out to trusted family and friends for help, and share what you are feeling.1,2

Connecting with other parents who are going through similar experiences can provide a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation as well. Talk with your doctor about local or online support groups.1,2,4

Self-care techniques

Healthy lifestyle habits can help improve your mental well-being. But they are not always easy to keep when you have a newborn to take care of. Knowing this, just do what you can with the resources you have. Try to eat healthy, get adequate sleep, exercise if you can, and make time for activities you enjoy.1,2,4

Seek help

If you have symptoms of postpartum depression, reach out to your doctor, therapist, or counselor. PPD is a serious condition that can affect any new mother. The sooner you get help, the better you and your baby will feel. Remember that you are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking support during this period in your life.1,2,4

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