Postpartum depression is a mental health illness that affects women after giving birth. For some women, it is normal to feel the “baby blues” for a few weeks after giving birth. With postpartum depression, mood swings, feelings of sadness, loneliness, worthlessness, restlessness, anxiety, loss of appetite, and prolonged periods of crying last much longer than a few weeks. You may even become disinterested in the baby. These feelings may begin anytime from a month to a year after delivery.
Postpartum depression is more likely to occur if you have had any of the following:
- Previous postpartum depression
- Depression not related to pregnancy
- Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- A difficult or very stressful marriage or relationship
- Few family members or friends to talk to or depend on
- Stressful life events during pregnancy or after childbirth (such as severe illness during pregnancy, premature birth, or a difficult delivery)
Path to improved health
If you are at risk of developing postpartum depression after your baby is born, it’s important to create a postpartum depression action plan. This is a plan of activities you can do to help fight your depression. It can be used in addition to other treatments to help manage your depression. Other treatments could include therapy, counseling, or medicine.
Postpartum Action Plan
Choose one area and add other areas as you begin to feel better.
- Stay active.
Make time every day for physical activity, such as walking for 10 to 20 minutes or dancing to a favorite song.
Every day during the next week I will spend at least ______ minutes doing ___________________________ .
- Do something that you think is fun each day.
Try doing something that has always been fun, such as a hobby, listening to music or watching a favorite TV show.
Every day during the next week I will spend at least ______ minutes doing ____________________________ .
- Spend time with people who help or support you.
It is easy to avoid people when you are feeling down. But you should not be alone all the time. Spend time talking to or doing activities with people. Talk to them about how you feel. But know that it’s okay if you can’t talk about your feelings at first, too.
During the week I will make contact for at least ______ minutes with ______________________ (name), doing or talking about ______________________ .
For many people who have depression, it is hard to stop feeling sad or having unhappy thoughts. Relaxing can help. Try taking slow deep breaths, saying comforting things quietly to yourself or taking a warm bath.
Every day during the next week I will practice relaxing at least ____ times for at least ____ minutes each time.
- Set simple goals.
Do not expect too much too soon. Set simple goals for yourself, such as making time to read a few pages of a magazine or fix a cup of tea or cocoa. Delay big decisions until you are feeling better. Give yourself credit for each thing you do. Break work into small steps
What I want to do is _______________________________________
Step 1 _________________________________________________________
Step 2 __________________________________________________________
How likely are you to do the above things during the next week?
- Very likely
- Not very likely
Adapted with permission from Ted Amann, RNC.
Things to consider
Feeling depressed doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. It doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or that you brought this on yourself. If you have given birth recently and are feeling sad, blue, anxious, irritable, tired, or have any of the other symptoms of postpartum depression, remember that many other women have had the same experience.
Call your doctor right away or get emergency help if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of hopelessness and total despair
- Feeling out of touch with reality (hearing or seeing things other people don’t)
- Feeling that you might hurt yourself or your baby
Call Postpartum Support International at 1-800-944-4773 to speak to a volunteer who can provide support and resources in your area.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential emotional support – they don’t just talk about suicide.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What can I do to feel better when I’m experiencing postpartum depression?
- How can I take care of myself while I’m taking care of my baby?
- Do I need to take medicine?
- Are medicines safe if I am breastfeeding?
- Do I need to see a psychiatrist or counselor?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.