What is Postpartum Depression? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Jessica McCallister

Jessica has a Doctorate degree in Social Work

Postpartum depression affects about 14% of women who give birth each year. The following lesson provides a definition of postpartum depression, symptoms and common treatment suggestions for the issue.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Depression, in any form, is not a reflection of someone's ability to be happy and and is not a direct reflection of someone's personality or demeanor. Rather, depression in general is a clinical disorder that can be managed effectively through varying means such as self-help, therapy and/or medication management.

When people experience depression, they are often sad, unmotivated and their mood is lowered, resulting in lack of energy and decreased levels of enthusiasm. Postpartum depression is mostly the same as generalized depression, except with postpartum depression, the symptoms emerge directly after a woman gives birth to a child. The American Psychiatric Association reported that 14% of the general population of mothers who have given birth experience this depressive disorder.

Not all women experience postpartum depression, and there are many factors that contribute to the onset of the disorder. For example, some women already experience clinical depression during pregnancy, thus increasing their chances of experiencing depression once they give birth. Also, giving birth changes hormone levels throughout the body, and for some, the surge of hormonal changes can increase the likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression. However, there is no real definitive cause of postpartum depression. It is furthermore important to note that up to 10% of new fathers can experience symptoms of postpartum depression! Men should also pursue treatment if they show symptoms of a depressive disorder.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

There are many symptoms that are associated with postpartum depression. The symptoms can last for a few days to several months and often include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Feelings of moodiness or irritability
  • Fatigue (more than general)
  • Excessive crying or sobbing
  • Decreased levels of motivation
  • Generalized sadness
  • Feeling nervous or anxious in regards to taking care of a baby
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased concentration
  • Nothing feels exciting anymore
  • Not being able to enjoy activities that once were enjoyable

Treatment for Postpartum Depression

Many treatment options are available for postpartum depression. Depending on the nature and severity of the disorder, some women find that waiting through a period of time to allow for hormonal changes to level off is the simplest option. However, in times where the disorder continues, reaching out for more extreme treatment options is most helpful.

There are three broad categories of treatment for any depressive disorder, including postpartum depression: self-help, professional therapy and/or medication management.


If you find yourself very depressed and experiencing some of the above symptoms after having a child, self-help options are available. What are self-help options? If you go to a large bookstore, you might be familiar with the section of the store called 'Self-Help.' This section provides many books and workbooks to assist in working through issues of depression and anxiety. Often, it is the self-help route that people gravitate towards in order to start moving down a path of feeling better.

Professional Therapy

A depressive disorder can become very difficult to manage. If a self-help path does not provide relief, then seeking assistance from a professional trained in therapies designed to improve depression is often the next best option. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most common type of therapy used to treat major depressive issues, including postpartum depression. CBT is a type of therapy designed to offer someone the tools and suggestions to begin thinking differently, ultimately changing the way he or she behaves.

In essence, CBT trains someone to start attacking the symptoms and challenges of a disorder that affect the mood, such as postpartum depression. The client may be asked to keep a journal and write note cards to remind him or her of ways to think differently about situations that are triggering depressive thoughts. A therapist trained in CBT will offer all types of suggestions and conversation geared towards changing thought processes associated with the symptoms of the depressive disorder.

Medication Management

Using prescribed medications to reduce feelings of depression is often a route that is successful in the treatment of any depressive disorder, including postpartum depression. If the depression is severe enough, a therapist may suggest adding a medication to balance the levels of serotonin, a naturally-made chemical that can influence mood levels. These medications are referred to as antidepressants, and most are safe, effective and can be taken on a short-term or long-term basis, depending on the nature of the disorder.

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