Depression after childbirth can happen to anyone. You didn’t cause this.

If you’re feeling down and irritable, and your low motivation lingers for a month or longer after giving birth, you may find it difficult to care for yourself and your baby.

It could also mean you’ve developed postpartum depression.

Although experts haven’t established the cause of postpartum depression, many factors may play a part in your symptoms.

There’s one thing to remember in every case, though: Postpartum depression doesn’t happen because of something you did or didn’t do.

Postpartum depression is a mental health condition, and symptoms can improve with support from a mental health professional.

You can learn more about postpartum depression and its symptoms here.

The causes of postpartum depression are still not well understood and haven’t been established. Experts, however, believe it may be a combination of factors.

At first, as you don’t understand what caused postpartum depression, you might believe you’re just overwhelmed by parenthood. You could also worry that you’re having a hard time coping because you’re not a good parent and wonder how other people will react if you tell them how you feel.

These symptoms don’t make you a bad parent in the slightest. Depression isn’t your fault, and you deserve help and support.

Here are the possible causes of postpartum depression:

Hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth

Even though hormone changes may be the most commonly discussed cause of postpartum depression, the role hormones play in this condition hasn’t really been established yet.

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.

Some experts have theorized this rapid shift in your hormone levels may contribute to the condition. But many studies haven’t found a definite or causal connection between hormone shifts and postpartum depression.

The link could be indirect. Estrogen affects the production of other hormones and neurotransmitters that have been linked to mood regulation. For example, serotonin and dopamine.

Sleep deprivation

Research suggests a link between postpartum depression and fatigue or sleep deprivation.

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 may 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 symptoms of depression after giving birth.

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:

  • performing self-care
  • 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.

Exhaustion, an aching body, and difficulty finding time for self-care can all affect your sense of self-worth and leave you feeling low. This, in time, may cause depression after giving birth.

Emotional distress

It’s natural and common to feel anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed after having a baby.

You might:

  • 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.

If you’re having a hard time coping with emotional distress, you could develop symptoms of 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. Feeling inadequate to respond to your baby’s needs may contribute to depression symptoms.

Any parent or primary caregiver can experience postpartum depression, regardless of gender. This includes:

Research from 2019 suggests that around 8% to 10% of fathers may develop depression during the first year after the birth of a child.

Potential causes of 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 professionals 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 the 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.

Minimize stress

Life is sometimes unpredictable, and you can’t avoid all sources of stress.

Healthy coping strategies, like time with loved ones, meditation, or breathing exercises, can help you navigate stress and reduce its impact.

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-important 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, doing 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 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.