Every woman is affected differently by the adjustment following childbirth and caring for a newborn 24 hours a day. This adjustment may include a range of emotional reactions called baby blues, depression and psychosis. Although the exact causes of these reactions are unknown, changes in hormone levels following childbirth might explain some symptoms.
The baby blues start in the first week after childbirth and usually last a few days. Symptoms include crying spells, mood swings, confusion, tiredness and sadness. This common condition is not associated with stress or a difficult childbirth. However, women who have been depressed before or during pregnancy may be more likely to develop the blues. The blues usually clear up in a week or so and require no treatment other than support and understanding for the new mother.
About 10 to 20 percent of new mothers show symptoms of depression. Depression can occur within a day or up to a year following childbirth. Symptoms include frequent crying, sleeplessness, low mood, keeping to oneself and anxiety. Some women have fears that they will harm themselves or the baby.
Women with depression after childbirth are more likely to have had a mental illness before and a family history of depression. Other situations leading to depression may include an unhappy marriage, childbirth complications or caring for a difficult baby. Treatment can greatly improve the mood of the mother with depression.
Psychosis occurs in about 1 out of 1,000 women who have recently given birth. This condition requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of psychosis include hearing voices, frequent mood changes, despair or elation, inability to sleep, confusion and suicidal thoughts. Although the exact causes of these symptoms are unknown, effective treatment is available, allowing these women to return to full and productive lives.
If you or someone you know appears to suffer from post-partum depression, call for help.