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Sanford Health Q&A: What is postpartum depression?

By Dr. Audrey McMacken

Why do women get depressed after giving birth?

Many new mothers go through what is termed the “baby blues” following childbirth. This anxiety, mood swings and irritability generally only lasts a few days or up to two weeks. New moms with postpartum depression have more severe symptoms and they tend to get worse over time.

They feel depressed, have little or no interest in activities they once enjoyed, experience appetite changes, sleep poorly or want to sleep all the time, are constantly fatigued, have diminished concentration and decision making powers and may even have thoughts of death and suicide.

Are certain women more likely to get postpartum depression?

Any woman can develop postpartum depression after any of her pregnancies. If you have a history of depression — whether it’s during previous pregnancies or at other times, if you have bipolar disorder and if you’ve had extremely stressful events during pregnancy, such as complications, marital or job problems, your risk for postpartum depression increases.

When does postpartum depression go away?

Untreated, postpartum depression can last up to a year or more and even become a chronic disorder. Your condition not only affects your health, but your family’s health as well.

If you are depressed, the risk of the baby’s father becoming depressed increases. Mothers with untreated postpartum depression are more likely to have children with behavioral problems, such as sleeping and eating difficulties, temper tantrums and hyperactivity. If you think you have postpartum depression, make an appointment with an obstetrician.

Can postpartum depression be treated effectively?

Yes, postpartum depression can be treated effectively. First, though, your doctor will determine if that is your diagnosis because there are other medical conditions, such as thyroid disease, that have similar symptoms.

Hormonal changes related to pregnancy and childbirth, changes in blood volume and metabolism, the sleep deprivation that often accompanies childbirth, difficulty breast feeding, genetic and hereditary factors and emotional and lifestyle changes are among factors that can contribute to postpartum depression.

Your doctor can prescribe lifestyle changes, counseling and medications to help you feel good again and enjoy your time with your family and new baby.

Dr. McMacken a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist, sees patients at Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic. She completed her medical degree at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Grand Forks and then did her residency at the University of Arizona in Tucson. To request an appointment, call 701-456-6144.