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Postpartum Depression (cont.)

Postpartum Depression Causes and Risk Factors

No specific cause of postpartum depression has been found.

  • Hormone imbalance is thought to play a role.
    • Levels of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol fall dramatically within 48 hours after delivery.
    • Women who go on to develop postpartum depression may be more sensitive to these hormonal changes.
  • Other known risk factors
    • Mental illness before pregnancy
    • Mental illness, including postpartum depression, in the family
    • Postpartum mental disorder after an earlier pregnancy
    • Conflict in the marriage, loss of employment, or poor social support from friends and family
    • Pregnancy loss such as miscarriage or stillbirth
      • The risk of major depression after miscarriage is high for women who are childless. It occurs even in women who were unhappy about being pregnant.
      • The risk for developing depression after miscarriage is highest within the first few months after the loss.
  • Childbirth is a time of great change for a woman. The adjustment to these changes can contribute to depression.
    • Physical changes after delivery
      • Many changes occur after delivery, including changes in muscle tone and difficulty losing weight.
      • Many new mothers are very tired after giving birth and in the weeks afterward.
      • Soreness and pain in the perineal area (area around the birth canal) makes many women uncomfortable. Physical recovery after cesarean delivery may take even longer than after vaginal delivery.
      • Changes in hormones can affect mood.
    • Common emotional changes after delivery
      • Feelings of loss of an old identity, feeling trapped at home
      • Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities of motherhood
      • Feeling stress from changes in routine
      • Feeling fatigue because of broken sleep patterns
      • Feeling less attractive physically and sexually
  • A mother's age and the number of children she has had do not relate to her likelihood of getting postpartum depression.
  • Men whose partners suffer from postpartum depression have been found to be at higher risk for developing a similar condition or other mental health problems at that time.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/24/2014

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