Postpartum Depression: Levels, Factors, and Help

Postpartum depression or baby blues — the meaning is the same and the results are the same.  Postpartum depression is a very real event and emotional condition that woman who have delivered a new child can experience throwing their entire lives into upheaval.

Depression is an emotional condition in which the sufferer may describe feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, irritable, headache, exhaustion, sense of inadequacy or just down in the dumps.  But this isn’t a feeling that lasts for a couple of hours or a day but rather a true clinical depression that interferes with everyday life for an extended period of time.

Levels of Postpartum Depression:

Level 1:  There are varying degrees of depression that can range from mild to moderate to very severe.  The degree of the depression should only be determined by your physician or psychologist, which will influence what treatments, will be used to control the problem.

In many cases the term ‘baby blues’ refer to the several days after birth when mom can experience mood swings.  They feel happy one minute and begin to cry in the very next.  They may feel a bit depressed, have a hard time concentrating, lose their appetite or find they can’t sleep.

These symptoms usually last for no more than the first 3 — 4 days after the birth of their child.  This is considered a normal part of the postpartum period and doesn’t resemble the more moderate or severe postpartum depression.

During this period it is beneficial for the mother and father if there is outside help at home to help them get past this initial bump in the road.  Dads are not always comfortable dealing with the ups and downs of their wives feelings in this first couple of days.  Another support person who can help prepare or bring meals, or just provide a shoulder for mom to cry on will give both parents needed respite.

Level 2:    Postpartum depression may initially appear as the more mild form of baby blues or may make an appearance in the weeks that follow the delivery.  This is considered a more moderate form of depression.

In addition to the symptoms listed above for baby blues women who experience postpartum depression will complain of symptoms that interfere with their daily living activities, including caring for their newborn.  Women may also complain of a constant fatigue, lack of joy in their lives including with their new little baby, a sense of emotional numbness or failure, excessive concern for the baby, impaired thinking or concentration, insomnia, severe mood swings, less interest in sex, and withdrawal from family and friends.

Level 3:  A more severe form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis.  This condition is rarer and develops within the first six weeks after delivery.  The signs and symptoms are even more severe.  In addition to the conditions that women who have baby blues and postpartum depression experience women with postpartum psychosis may also experience a fear of harming themselves or their baby, confusion and disorientation, hallucinations and delusions and paranoia.


Depression can actually happen to women within the first year after birth of their baby and still be considered perinatal depression.  The exact numbers of women who suffer from this condition aren’t known because of the difficulty tracking the incidence.  Researchers do believe that it is a common complication during and after pregnancy.

Sometimes a mild or moderate case might not be recognized by the woman, spouse or physician because the symptoms often mimic some of the more normal changes after delivery such as trouble sleeping, stronger emotional reactions, changes in body weight, tiredness or fatigue.

Woman, their spouses, friends, family and physicians should be aware of the potential for developing this condition so that treatment can be started as quickly as possible.  Early treatment and intervention can lead to a quicker recovery and less emotional pain for both the woman and the spouse.

Postpartum Depression Factors:

There may be a number of reasons that women become depressed in the postpartum period.  In some cases the reason may be obvious while at other times the reasons may evade detection.     Hormone changes in the woman’s body after birth, a stressful life event, a death in the family can all cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to depression.

Depression, or the predisposition to this condition, is also something that ‘runs in families’.

Researchers also believe that the large changes in the hormone levels of the woman can lead to depression the way that small changes during her menstrual period can lead to mood swings and emotional upheaval.

Woman can also suffer from depression during pregnancy that can be triggered by a history of depression or substance abuse, family history of depression, anxiety, problems with a previous birth or pregnancy, marital or financial problems or woman who are very young.

Another factor in the development of postpartum depression may be a drop in thyroid hormone after delivery of the baby.  The thyroid gland is located in the neck and is responsible for regulating the metabolism.  Low levels can cause depression, decreased interest, irritability, fatigue, sleep problems, weight gain and difficulty concentrating.  A simple blood test will rule out any thyroid problems.  If this is the reason for depression a thyroid medication can be prescribed to solve the issue.

There are other factors that can trigger depression in the postpartum time period such as lack of sleep, feelings of being overwhelmed with the baby or stress from changes in work or home routines or feelings of loss of control over time can all trigger more chemical changes in the brain that will trigger depression.

Some women don’t confess their feelings or struggles because they feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty as if it’s somehow their fault.  They may feel they should be happy because they just had a beautiful baby but in reality they feel entirely different.  They may worry that they will be seen as unfit.


Postpartum Depression Help:

BUT woman shouldn’t suffer alone because there is help.  Other women do suffer with this condition.  It isn’t her fault, she didn’t cause it.  There are a variety of options for treatment that a woman can use both at home and with the assistance of her physician.

There are groups that have been formed around women who suffer from postpartum depression that help women to talk in groups with others who understand what they are suffering.  It can also help to have some individual therapy to help with coping strategies.

There has been limited research that suggests that anti-depressants also help to alter the chemical soup in the body to a more normal basis.  These drugs do pass from mother to baby through breast milk so you should talk with your obstetrician and psychiatrist before using medication of any type.  If you believe you may be taking these medications for a short time — 6 weeks — you may opt to pump for 6 weeks to maintain the milk supply, throwing out what you pump, until you are no longer taking the medication and the baby can nurse again.

Another helpful thing you can do to help your body recover is to get as much rest as possible.  You may not be able to sleep but resting will also help.  Nap if you can when baby sleeps.

Take the pressure off of yourself to accomplish everything and make it all perfect.  Life isn’t perfect and never will be.  Do what you can and leave the rest.  It will still be there when you get back.

Ask for help with household chores from other children, family and spouse.  Attempt to get some help in the house for part of the day to help with chores.  Ask for meals from friends and family.  Too many times women go without help because they just don’t want to ask.  Imagine the shoe being on the other foot — you would be bringing meals to friends quickly — and they will do the same for you, you just have to let them know you need their help.

Talk to someone about how you are feeling.  Don’t go through this alone.  You aren’t alone.  Talk with your partner, spouse, friends, family, mother, sister or brother.  Find someone who is available to listen and give you support that you need.  And don’t spend lots of time alone.  If you aren’t resting or napping, grab baby and head out the door to the store or a friend’s house.  Take a walk in the neighborhood or head to the park.  Baby will sleep where ever you happen to be — it doesn’t have to be in a crib.

Don’t make any changes to your life or make any life decisions in this postpartum period.  Major changes can cause stress and stress should be avoided.

Left untreated depression can hurt the mother, the family, the spouse, baby and friends and family.  Some research has also found that women who experience depression during pregnancy have a higher risk of delivering an underweight baby or premature baby.  This may be because women who are suffering from depression may have a difficult time taking care of themselves, eating enough, making their prenatal appointments or may turn to alcohol, tobacco or drugs to ease their pain.

All children deserve the chance to have a healthy mom and all moms deserve the change to enjoy their lives and their children.  You don’t have to suffer alone — there are others who can help to support you and provide you with answers that will ease the pain.  If you, or someone you know, is experiencing the pain of postpartum depression please tell a friend, or your doctor or midwife immediately.


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