The time after giving birth can be emotional for new mothers.
Along with the happiness of having a new baby, many mothers experience the “baby blues” — feelings of sadness or worry — after giving birth. They may feel tired, overwhelmed, and have trouble sleeping or eating.
The baby blues are common. If they fade after a few days or a week, treatment usually is not necessary.
In some cases, however, feelings of sadness or emptiness after birth can continue for two weeks or longer. This condition is known as postpartum depression (PPD), and mothers experiencing it should get treatment to avoid complications.
What Is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that affects mothers for up to a year after the birth of a child. About one in eight mothers will experience PPD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Hormonal changes after giving birth, fatigue from lack of sleep, and other stressors may cause or contribute to PPD.
The symptoms of PPD are more severe than the baby blues and last two weeks or longer.
Mothers with PPD may feel sad, empty, or emotionless. They may feel disconnected from their newborn and find it difficult to provide care. In serious cases, they may think about hurting themselves or the baby.
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Postpartum Depression Symptoms
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Frequent crying and sadness.
- An empty feeling.
- Not feeling connected to your baby.
- Feeling guilty about your abilities as a mother.
- Withdrawal from loved ones.
- Trouble sleeping or eating.
- Lack of interest in activities.
- Thoughts of hurting the baby or yourself.
In rare cases, some mothers experience hallucinations or hear voices. This condition is known as postpartum psychosis.
If you experience the symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Call your ob-gyn for help.
Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression
Treatment for postpartum depression can include therapy, medicine, or a combination of both.
Also known as talk therapy or counseling, therapy usually involves meeting with a licensed medical professional to discuss what you’re feeling.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This treatment centers around changing thoughts and behaviors to help manage a condition. CBT is commonly used for anxiety and depression.
- Interpersonal therapy: Also common for depression treatment, interpersonal therapy focuses on social and personal relationships. It aims to help people improve communication in their relationships and develop support systems, among other goals.
- Other therapy options: Support groups, parental classes, and other therapy options may help mothers with postpartum depression.
Doctors may prescribe antidepressants to help treat postpartum depression. You should talk to your doctor about which antidepressant would work best for you. Some may carry side effects so be sure to tell the doctor you’re breastfeeding.
- Brexanolone — In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved brexanolone as the first drug designed specifically for postpartum depression. Unlike existing antidepressants, brexanolone targets different areas of the brain and mimics hormones that are naturally produced in the body. It is available as in intravenous infusion. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital offers brexanolone as part of a comprehensive treatment program for depression that occurs during pregnancy or postpartum. The program also includes therapy and other medicine options. Brexanolone treatment at UPMC Magee requires a two-night stay in the hospital for intravenous infusion of the medicine. Women interested in the treatment should talk to their doctor about a referral to the UPMC Western Behavioral Health perinatal psychiatry team to determine eligibility. They also can email brexanolone@UPMC.edu.
- Zuranolone — Until recently, treatment for PPD was available only as an IV injection given by a health care provider in certain health care facilities. In August 2023, the FDA approved the first oral medication specifically to treat postpartum depression. Marketed under the brand name ZurzuvaeTM, zuranolone is a short-term oral medication that could help new parents with PPD. It is expected to become available by late 2023 and can be prescribed by your primary care provider, ob-gyn, or mental health provider.
When Should I Talk to My Doctor About Postpartum Depression?
You should contact your ob-gyn if:
- You experience symptoms of postpartum depression for two weeks or longer.
- Your symptoms get worse.
- You have severe symptoms, such as thoughts of suicide or harming your child.
- Your depression is making it difficult to complete daily activities.
The sooner you contact your doctor, the sooner you can begin treatment to help with your symptoms.
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital offers various treatment options and classes for you and your family. Our behavioral health experts are experienced and ready to provide care. Call 412-641-1238 to speak with one of our staff members.
Patients in Central Pa. can contact the caring team of providers at UPMC Women’s Behavioral Health Specialists at 717-988-9430.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.