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Post-Partum Complications: Postpartum Depression and Anxiety Explained

Having a baby can be one of the happiest and most significant events in a person’s life. While life with a baby can be thrilling and rewarding, it can also present unknown hardships and stressors. One in seven women suffer from post-partum complications, including post-partum depression and anxiety, which can overshadow the bliss of being a new mother (American Psychological Association).


A mild state of depressed mood which occurs immediately after birth and up to six weeks post-partum, is common to most mothers, which is referenced as “the baby blues”. Anywhere from 50-85% of people who recently gave birth experience the baby blues (www.womensmeentalhealth.org). This state is usually categorized by sudden mood changes, ranging from intense sadness to euphoria. These mood changes can last a duration of hours or as long as two weeks post-delivery. This state can be contributed to fluctuation in hormones, the reconciliation of life changes, and lack of sleep.


Post-Partum depression is characterized by feelings of despair, irritability, appetite changes, and severe anxiety symptoms. The symptoms are longer lasting than the baby blues and can occur anytime within the first year. This state can affect ability to function and interact with the child or children.


Post-Partum Psychosis is a serious mental health state which occurs usually within the first six weeks after delivery. Individuals examining post-partum psychosis may feel out of touch with reality, thoughts of harming self or child/children.


All individuals who are experiencing depressive or increased anxiety after giving birth should seek professional medical and mental health assistance, to prevent symptoms from worsening. Counseling or therapy, combined with medication and education in stress-reducing techniques and self-care tactics generally leads to recovery.


Signs and symptoms of Post-Partum Depression:

- Restlessness, anger, or irritability

- Sadness, despair, tearfulness

- Worthlessness or guilt

- Fear of hurting your baby or yourself

- Overly concerned or under concerned about the baby

- Little or no energy

- Headaches, chest pains, rapid heartbeat, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, or fast and shallow breathing

- Trouble sleeping, due to anxious thoughts

- Poor eating habits

- Trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions

- Little interest in things you used to enjoy, including sexual activities or career tasks


Risk Factors for Post-Partum Complication Susceptibility

Any new parent is susceptible, but certain risk factors can predispose some to increased risk for post-partum depression. A prior history of a mood disorder before pregnancy, a past history of a mood disorder throughout pregnancy, or a past history of postpartum depression all increase susceptibility to experience postpartum depression. The American Psychological Association finds that half of the individuals diagnosed with post-partum depression state that it is the first depressive episode they have ever experienced.


According to the National Institute of Health, a history of one or more pregnancy losses, a complicated pregnancy for medical reasons, hormonal sensitivity, health problems with themselves or the fetus, a sick baby or a premature baby in the NICU, being socially isolated and lacking a support system postpartum.


Who can experience post-partum complications?

Any individual who is pregnant, had a baby within the past several months, miscarried, recently weaned a child from breast feeding, or adopted a child. PPD symptoms can occur for individuals regardless of how many previously non-complicated pregnancies and postpartum adjustments in the past, and regardless of age, race and ethnicity, number of children, and socioeconomic status. If you have experienced post-partum complications, you are not alone. You are not a “bad parent”, and there are highly successful treatment options available to help you manage symptoms and increase enjoyment with parenting.


More information about postpartum complications can be obtained by contacting your physician or any of the following:


Illinois Department of Human Services Helpline

1-800-843-6154


National Institute of Mental Health

301-496-9576


The National Women’s Health Information Center, Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

800-994-9662


Illinois Department of Public Health

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