Updated: Jan 8, 2019
Bringing a child into the world is truly a life changing event.
My wife and I have experienced the miracle of birth three times during our marriage.
Our children have brought us great joy and happiness; however there were also challenges associated with having a new baby at home.
One challenge we faced was postpartum depression, which my wife suffered after the birth of our first child. But what exactly is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression, or PPD, is depression suffered after the birth of a child.
Many parents suffer from the baby blues, which are characterized by mood swings. The baby blues happen within the first few weeks after birth and usually last a few days.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
PPD is different because the symptoms are more severe and much longer lasting.
Some of the symptoms of PPD are:
difficulty bonding with your baby
feelings that you are not a good parent
reduced interest in activities you would usually enjoy
loss of appetite
thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
thoughts of death or suicide
feelings of shame or guilt
withdrawal from friends and family
What causes PPD
So what exactly causes postpartum depression? First, it is important to remember that no single thing causes PPD.
Hormones do play a role in PPD, but they are not the only factor.
Risk factors for PPD are a previous history of depression, family history of depression, difficulty breastfeeding, relationship problems, lack of social support, unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, financial struggles, and your new baby having health problems.
PPD is very complex and is impacted by a variety of factors in a person’s life. An important fact to be aware of is that fathers can suffer from PPD as well.
Postpartum depression has long been associated with mothers; however research has shown that new fathers can have PPD. Fathers are especially at risk if their partner is suffering from PPD. PPD is a problem that impacts both parents.
In other words, we need to focus on the mental health of both parents.
How Can PPD Impact Your Family?
Postpartum depression can greatly impact the bond that you form with your new child.
Parents with PPD often have difficulty creating a good attachment (emotional bond) with their child, which can impact the family for years to come.
Attachment is important because it gives children a secure base from which they can explore the world around them.
Children who develop secure attachment with their parents tend to be more confident, have higher self-worth, and are more secure in their friendships and future romantic relationships.
PPD can also impact your relationship with your partner. Individuals with PPD often feel extreme shame and guilt over their feelings, which can cause them to distance from their partner.
As people distance from their partner or others around them, their feelings of shame and guilt can increase, causing the severity of their symptoms to increase as well.
PPD can also lead to an increase in substance abuse and domestic violence. Overall, there are many ways that PPD can impact a couple’s relationship.
What Can You Do About PPD?
There is really no way to ensure that you will not suffer from postpartum depression as a new parent, but there are things you can do to make the symptoms less severe or damaging to you and your family.
The first thing you can do is share your feelings.
There is so much shame and stigma regarding postpartum depression, despite the fact that it occurs in about 10-20% of new parents.
People often feel embarrassed that they aren’t happier to be a new parent or feel ashamed to share their struggles with others. As hard as it may be, share your struggles with your partner or other friends and family members.
Social support is vital during this time. Chances are there are other people in your life that have experienced PPD or similar feelings.
Don’t suffer in silence!
That will only make things worse. Next, inform your doctor about your struggles. Most women have a follow up appointment with their OB.
Your OB should assess you for PPD during this visit. This is an ideal time to share how you are feeling.
It is also an ideal time to bring your partner to the visit and have them assessed for PPD as well.
Next, don’t be ashamed if your doctor recommends an anti-depressant.
Many who suffer from PPD are offered an anti-depressant to aid in their recovery and that is okay! It doesn’t mean that you will need to take the medication forever.
It may be temporary until things in your life settle down. As a therapist I have seen many clients temporarily use an anti-depressant and it has been extremely beneficial to them.
But make sure you do so under the direction of your medical provider. They have been trained and are qualified to assist you in that process.
Should You See a Therapist for PPD?
Your doctor may also refer you to a family therapist, which I would strongly recommend.
Therapy, like medication, doesn’t need to last forever.
Many clients see a therapist for one or two sessions and are able to get back on track. Others take longer and that is okay too.
Each person and couple has unique needs. It is also highly recommended to involve your partner in therapy.
PPD is not an individual issue, it is a couple and family issue, and should be treated that way.
Involve your partner in therapy with you so that you may gain strength and support from one another.
You may learn to understand your partner and feel more understood by your partner more than you ever have by simply inviting them to therapy with you.
About the Author
Dr. Brandon Eddy is an assistant professor in the Couple and Family Therapy Program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist State Intern in the State of Nevada.
Dr. Eddy received his Ph.D. in Couple, Marriage, and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University and received his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Nebraska.
Dr. Eddy has presented at international, national, state, and local conferences on subjects of Medical Family Therapy such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Postpartum Depression, and the transition to parenthood. He has also published journal articles, book chapters, and magazine articles on medical family therapy topics.
Dr. Eddy’s approach to therapy includes use of the Experiential Family Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy models. He currently resides in Las Vegas with his wife and children.
Beck, C. T. (2001). Predictors of postpartum depression: An update. Nursing research, 50(5), 275-285.
Paulson, J. F., & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. Jama, 303(19), 1961-1969.