Postpartum Depression

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

While there is no singular cause for postpartum depression, there a few risk factors that every expectant and new mother should know about. Learn more about them here to reduce your risk of developing this condition.

There’s a lot that happens after a woman gives birth to a new baby. Dealing with postpartum depression on top of all of her new and old responsibilities is something no mother imagines. Yet, postpartum depression is more common than you may think — and can affect any new mother.

But, what causes postpartum depression? Are there things a woman can do to reduce the risk of developing this mental health condition during a time when all she wants to do is recover from the physical and emotional stressors of pregnancy?

There is a lot of misconception out there about postpartum depression causes. This article exists to clear those up and help you understand exactly why postpartum depression happens. Whether you are a new mother who is coping with symptoms of depression after pregnancy or an expectant mother wondering about how to reduce your risk for postpartum depression, knowledge is always key.

However, the information in this article is not intended to be and should not be taken as medical advice. If you wish to learn more about postpartum depression, or if you are experiencing signs of depression after childbirth, please reach out to your medical professional.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

You may have heard rumors from current and former mothers, advising you to do so-and-so to prevent the likelihood of developing depression in the time after you have given birth. The fact is that there is no single cause of postpartum depression and no single thing you can do to prevent developing this mental health condition. Instead, postpartum depression causes vary from woman to woman and often depend upon the personal circumstances that a new mother finds herself in.

Medical professionals today suggest that postpartum depression likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors, not from something a mother does or does not do. While there are certain risk factors for postpartum depression that increase a woman’s chance of developing this condition (more on that below), it is never a woman’s fault if she experiences postpartum depression.

If you’ve heard things making you wonder if certain medications or choices during pregnancy can lead to this condition (for example, asking “Can an epidural cause postpartum depression?”) know that this is not scientifically proven. While a woman’s doctor can usually point to certain contributing factors once she develops postpartum depression, there is a still a great deal of unknown in the reasons why this mental health condition exists. More awareness and research is still needed for this important mental health care crisis among new mothers.

Why Does Postpartum Depression Happen?

So, are there any identifiable postpartum depression causes that contribute to a woman developing these difficult feelings after her baby is born? Why do women get postpartum depression?

Like any depression, postpartum depression can be triggered by a biological change — an imbalance of brain chemicals. When a woman gives birth, her pregnancy hormones must adjust rapidly back to her pre-pregnancy hormone levels. A sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone levels after birth can often trigger mood swings. Sometimes, these hormone changes can cause long-lasting depression.

On the other hand, there are a lot of external factors that can explain why postpartum depression happens. For women who choose to parent, bringing a new baby into a family is a big change, and those changes can cause a great deal of physical and mental stress. While a new mother is trying to recover from the physical challenges of pregnancy and childbirth, she is also trying to care for her new baby — and take care of her everyday responsibilities that existed before she got pregnant.  On the other hand, women who choose adoption have to cope with the normal postpartum recovery process while simultaneously struggling with a grief and loss process following their adoption placement.

During this time, a woman may experiencing:

  • Excessive worry about her ability to raise a baby and be a parent, or her choice to place her child with adoptive parents
  • Complications and side effects from her pregnancy and childbirth
  • A lack of family support
  • Worries about her personal relationships
  • Financial difficulties
  • Loneliness
  • Changes to her sleeping and eating schedules
  • And more

All of these factors can play a critical role in a woman feeling depressed, worn-out, angry and irritated at the new situation that she finds herself in — regardless of how excited she initially may have been to become a parent. Her ideas of what parenting is like may not fit with her new reality, and all of these difficulties combined can lead to postpartum depression.

What Are the Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression?

While we don’t know the exact postpartum depression causes that bring this mood disorder about, medical professionals have been able to identify certain risk factors for postpartum depression. This way, doctors can talk to expectant mothers during their prenatal visits about their medical history and help them prepare should their feelings of “baby blues” grow into something more serious after birth.

If you are an expectant mother, there are a few factors that can increase your risk for postpartum depression:

  • You have experienced depression during or after a previous pregnancy.
  • You have previous experience with depression or bipolar disorder.
  • A family member has been diagnosed with depression or another mental illness.
  • You experienced a stressful life event during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.
  • You experienced medical complications during childbirth or your baby was born with special medical needs.
  • You have mixed feelings about your pregnancy.
  • You have a lack of strong emotional support from loved ones.
  • You are struggling with alcohol or other substance abuse issues.

If any of these factors apply to you, it’s important to talk to your doctor further about postpartum depression. Learning to identify the symptoms of postpartum depression and recognizing how it is treated can play an important role in getting you the help you need, should you find yourself experiencing signs of depression after pregnancy.

As always, do not be afraid to reach out to your medical professional for more information about this topic to have the healthiest postpartum recovery period possible.