Depression after childbirth can happen to anyone. You didn’t cause this.
For some people, it may be natural to feel exhausted or drained after welcoming a new baby. If this is your first child, you’ve entered a completely new world.
But if your mood starts to change and your low motivation lingers for two or more weeks, you may find it difficult to care for yourself and your baby. It could also mean you’ve developed postpartum depression.
Experts believe several factors play a part in causing the condition. There’s one thing to remember in every case, though: Postpartum depression doesn’t happen because of something you did or did not do.
It’s a mental health condition, and symptoms can improve with support from a mental health professional.
Postpartum (perinatal) depression refers to depression symptoms that appear during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.
This condition is very common. Between 10% and 20% of people who have a child will experience postpartum depression.
Common symptoms include:
- feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- frequent shifts in mood
- frequent crying
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- feeling disconnected from your baby, your partner, or both
- fear of hurting yourself or your baby
- wanting to avoid other people
- loss of energy
- trouble sleeping
- trouble concentrating or remembering things
At first, you might believe you’re just overwhelmed by parenthood. You could also worry that you’re struggling to cope because you’re not a good parent and wonder how other people will react if you tell them how you feel.
When you find yourself fixating on negative thoughts or struggling to bond with your baby, it’s important to reach out for help.
These symptoms don’t make you a bad parent in the slightest. Depression isn’t your fault, and you deserve help and support.
Many different factors can
- personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
- stress during pregnancy or after giving birth
- previous pregnancies
- pregnancy loss or stillbirth
- lack of social or family support
- history of trauma or adverse life events
- complications during pregnancy or childbirth, including illness, preterm labor, or having a baby with health concerns or other special needs
- giving birth
between the ages of 13 and 19 years
- alcohol or substance use
Here are a few more specific factors that could contribute to postpartum depression:
Lack of sleep
You might find it difficult to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” as well-meaning loved ones often urge. Maybe you worry about the baby needing you or want to get things done around the house.
And what if your baby never seems to sleep?
Pregnancy and childbirth take a toll on your body, and sleep is a key part of recovery. Having a hard time getting the sleep you need can contribute to health consequences, including depression.
Lack of time to relax, recover, and heal
After you give birth, your body needs to recover. Beyond sleep, you also need time to relax, unwind, and take care of your physical health.
You might have a hard time relaxing, especially when you want to “do everything right” as a parent.
Yet trying to care for your baby while also doing chores, working, and taking care of other children might leave you with no time for other key aspects of well-being, such as:
- seeing loved ones
- doing things you enjoy
Lack of social support
Feelings of loneliness and emptiness can contribute to depression, so a strong support network can make a big difference when you have a new baby.
If available, your partner can provide support on a daily basis. Friends and family members can also help out by:
- bringing meals
- providing company
- looking after your baby while you rest
Simply spending time with loved ones can remind you that you’re not alone, which can help protect you against postpartum depression symptoms.
Changes in your body
You might have trouble adjusting to pregnancy’s physical changes or feel some pain and discomfort as you heal. Social pressure to “get your body back” can also affect your mood.
It’s not uncommon to feel guilty for worrying about these things when you and your baby are both physically healthy.
Yes, your health is important, but you also deserve to feel good about yourself. Exhaustion, an aching body, and difficulty finding time for self-care can all affect your sense of self-worth and leave you feeling low.
It’s natural and not uncommon to feel anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed after having a baby.
- worry about your ability to take care of the baby
- worry about your relationship with your partner
- feel as if you’ve lost your sense of self
- struggle to balance caring for your baby and returning to work
- feel sad or guilty
- feel overwhelmed by the desire to be a “perfect” parent
- feel lonely or isolated
Difficult or painful life changes during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth can also affect your emotional well-being. These might include:
- job loss
- financial issues
- breakup or divorce
- loss of a loved one
Emotional turmoil and distress often get worse when you don’t know how to talk about these feelings.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth
During pregnancy, your body produces much more estrogen and progesterone than it typically does.
As soon as you give birth, levels of these hormones immediately begin to decline. This rapid shift in your hormone levels may contribute to postpartum depression.
A decrease in thyroid hormones can also contribute to symptoms of depression after childbirth.
Only a few scientific studies have explored the role of genetics in postpartum depression, but some
One 2017 study compared RNA samples from six women who had recovered from postpartum depression with 10 women with no history of the condition.
Researchers found that nine altered genes seemed to predict postpartum depression in women diagnosed with the condition.
They also noted that lasting genetic changes may help explain why postpartum depression after one pregnancy increases your chances of depression after future pregnancies.
This study was very small, so future research may offer more insight into how genes contribute to postpartum depression.
Feeling overwhelmed by your baby’s needs
You might be more likely to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or guilty if your baby:
- has trouble eating or sleeping on a regular schedule
- has health concerns
- cries frequently or is difficult to soothe
This doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or that there’s anything wrong with your baby. Still, you could have a harder time adjusting — especially if you don’t have much support.
Any parent or primary caregiver can experience postpartum depression, regardless of gender. This includes:
- transgender or nonbinary parents
- adoptive parents
Research from 2019 suggests that around
Potential contributing factors to depression in other parents include:
- low income
- sleep deprivation
- history of depression
- relationship issues
- unplanned pregnancy
- changes in hormones believed to promote father-child bonding
Along with the hormonal changes that happen in pregnancy, transgender and nonbinary parents who give birth may also face cissexism (transphobia) from healthcare providers and society in general.
This stigma can contribute to isolation and depression symptoms.
Postpartum depression is a mental health condition, and it can’t be prevented completely.
You could still develop postpartum depression even if you follow all the recommendations, minimize stress during pregnancy, and have plenty of support.
Recognizing key signs is an important step toward getting help.
If you’ve had symptoms of depression or postpartum depression before, let your care team know early in pregnancy. They can help you identify options for treatment and prevention.
Here are some other helpful steps:
Talk about how you’re feeling
It may be difficult to share painful or unwanted feelings with other people, especially when they expect you to be happy.
But opening up might lead you to discover that your partner and other loved ones can listen, validate your distress, and offer emotional support.
Life is sometimes unpredictable, and you can’t avoid all sources of stress.
Be kind to yourself
You’ve just become a parent. That’s an incredible feat.
Practicing compassion for yourself as you grow accustomed to the changes and new responsibilities of parenthood might help you cope with the situation.
Prioritize rest and self-care
Your health is most important, so remind yourself that it’s just fine to let less-essential tasks slide.
Instead of forcing yourself to do some work or a few chores, take time to nap and relax.
Make time for physical activity
Exercise can help improve your mood and well-being. Walking, yoga, and stretching are all great ways to get moving, once your doctor clears you for exercise.
Open up to other new parents
Support groups for new parents or parents with postpartum depression can help you connect with others in a similar situation.
Talking to people who understand can help you feel less alone and remind you that depression is common and not your fault.
Explore local postpartum support groups at Postpartum Progress or talk to your healthcare professional or community mental health center to find support near you.
Experts haven’t found a root cause of postpartum depression. It’s most likely a combination of contributing factors that leads to the development of the condition.
Consider seeking the support of a health professional if you notice signs of postpartum depression in yourself or a loved one.
Without treatment, symptoms could linger for months, even years.
Needing a little extra support to care for yourself and a new baby is not uncommon. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and asking for help is a sign of strength.