Postpartum depression can affect anyone. Here are some tips for coping with it.

The birth of a baby can bring a lot of change to someone’s life. Some of these changes are expected, like lots of dirty diapers, new feeding schedules, and sleep deprivation.

But some changes are less expected — such as those that affect your mental and emotional health, like postpartum depression (PPD).

PPD is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD) that develops in a parent in the year following the birth of their child.

“It’s similar to major depression in that the main symptoms are feeling depressed and disinterested,” explains Kristin Calverley, a licensed psychologist in Texas certified in perinatal mental health and owner of Inner Balance Psychological Services.

Other symptoms you might experience include, but aren’t limited, to:

  • changes in appetite
  • feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • sleeping too much
  • irritability
  • loss of energy
  • anxiety
  • trouble concentrating
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • thoughts of harming the baby

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms for several days or weeks on end, you might be experiencing PPD. Whether or not you’re the parent who gave birth to your baby, PPD can affect you.

But there are strategies that can help you manage your symptoms. Consider the following tips to help you cope:

“Recognize that your experience is valid, and it is not your fault that you are ‘struggling’,” says Kara Kushnir, a New Jersey licensed clinical social worker trained in perinatal and postpartum mental health.

You’re not a bad parent because you were diagnosed with PPD — and things will get better with treatment and time. PPD can affect both the birthing parent and the non-birthing parent.

According to a 2021 study, roughly 1 in 7 women experience PPD.

A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis also suggests that somewhere between 1.2% and 25.5% of men develop paternal postpartum disorder.

Like most forms of depression, researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes PPD. Instead, it appears that several risk factors contribute to it, including:

  • having a history of mental illness, such as depression
  • complications in pregnancy or delivery
  • a history of infertility
  • relationship issues
  • hormonal changes
  • employment instability
  • financial stress
  • other life stresses
  • sleep deprivation
  • the birthing parent’s mental health
  • lack of a support system

In other words, says Sandy J. Green, a certified lactation counselor, postpartum doula, and the founder of Taking Care of Mama, “it is likely caused by various factors — none of which is your fault.”

It might sound cliche to “sleep when the baby sleeps” but the truth is, sleep is incredibly important to your mental health. So when and if you can sleep, you should. (The laundry or dirty dishes can wait.)

According to a 2018 study, sleep deprivation is believed to increase the chances of developing PPD.

A large 2016 study indicated that both parents are more likely to have depressive symptoms if the birthing parent sleeps poorly.

Another 2016 study involving 360 women in Ardabil, Iran suggested that women that didn’t sleep well were 3 times more likely to experience PPD compared to postpartum women with good sleep quality.

A large 2015 study also found that suicidal ideation increased in women with PPD that were sleep-deprived.

Going to the gym may seem like the last thing you want to do when there is a newborn at home to take care of, but making time to get your body moving — even if it’s just a short walk around the park — can be helpful.

“Exercise allows you to release endorphins, establish routine, and mentally disengage in a way that is both productive and healthy,” says Nicholas Hardy, a psychotherapist in Houston.

Of course, if you’re the birthing parent, make sure you allow your body time to heal before engaging in strenuous exercise.

Consider talking with your doctor about what activities are safe for you to do within the first 3 months after bringing the baby home.

Caring for a newborn can be all-consuming between the round-the-clock feedings, dirty diapers, and trying to fit naps in. So it’s easy to put off taking a shower, washing your hair, brushing your teeth, or even scrubbing your face.

When our hygiene goes unnoticed, though, it can impact our self-esteem and further isolate us from our support networks because we don’t want others to see us not looking our best.

It’s okay to take a short break to meditate, read a book, or even schedule a massage.

You may be surprised just how much these short moments of self-care might help lessen your symptoms of depression.

Even if you just run to the corner bakery for a muffin, leaving the house for a little while each day may decrease your feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Plus, it can help break the repetitive cycle of caring for your newborn by helping you feel like you’re accomplishing at least one thing on your to-do list each day.

Try to avoid overloading yourself with tasks to accomplish. It might just make you feel more anxious or overwhelmed.

Eating healthfully is important whether you’re the birthing parent and are breastfeeding, you’re feeding your baby formula, or you’re the non-birthing parent.

A large 2021 study indicated that diets lacking vegetables and food variety were associated with PPD in Chinese lactating women.

Eating nutritious foods can help you feel better and give your body the nutrients you need while caring for your baby and yourself.

“It is important to identify individuals and communities that allow you to openly express your feelings,” says Hardy. “When we suppress our emotions, [they] build up and create friction in other areas of our lives.”

For example, consider talking to your partner, family, or friends. Speaking with loved ones may help them better understand what you’re going through, and how they can better support you.

In addition to telling others what you’re going through, consider asking people you trust for help. Support from those you trust can help you find the time for the other things, such as more sleep and self-care.

Consider using this time to explore what you may need to help you relax and feel better.

If you don’t feel like you can truly talk to your family or friends about what you’re going through — or don’t feel like they can give you the kind of support you need — consider reaching out to a therapist or support group.

For example, Calverley says, “there are many free support groups both online and throughout the country that cater specifically to moms who are ‘struggling.'”

There are also support groups for non-birthing parents where you can meet and talk with parents going through similar experiences.

If you’re not sure where to find a group, check out postpartum support international, which offers a directory of support groups that can be helpful.

“When I was a new father, I got a lot more out of talking to men that I admired as good fathers about their early adventures of being a dad,” says Nolan Davis, licensed marriage and family therapist at Thriveworks in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Those stories gave me a lot of encouragement that not only can I do this, but that any ‘mistakes’ I make along the way are likely not going to ruin my child for the rest of their life.”

“Knowing that I had within me everything I needed to be a good dad gave me the confidence to embrace my role as a father.”

“The biggest tip I have for new mothers is not to wait to get help,” says Green. “Online therapy is an excellent option as it’s affordable and very convenient.”

Some parents, particularly those who are breastfeeding or chestfeeding, sometimes delay treatment out of fear that treatment might involve medication that isn’t safe if passed to the baby through breastmilk.

However, Green continues, “many antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are safe while breastfeeding [so] there’s no shame in talking to your doctor about these medications, in conjunction with therapy, if you’re suffering.”

Some people also benefit from couples therapy, particularly if their diagnosis has affected their relationship with their partner.

Life with PPD can feel difficult but remember it doesn’t have to last forever — or take over your life. With treatment and self-care, you can manage your symptoms and begin to feel better.

PPD can be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional or doctor with clinical questioning and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

Treatment may involve talk therapy, antidepressants, or a combination of both.

There are also several helpful books that you might want to consider reading, including: