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Postpartum Depression (Postnatal Depression)

A type of clinical depression that occurs after childbirth.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Postnatal Depression (Postpartum Depression)

Pregnant women usually expect the days and weeks following the birth of their child to be a happy time. But many have also heard of severe mood swings that often start a few days after giving birth, known as the baby blues. If the sadness does not go away, it might be the start of a depression.

Depression after childbirth is called postnatal (or postpartum) depression. It is quite similar to the kind of depression that can affect people in any phase of life. Except for one major difference: mothers often feel very guilty about not being able to care for their baby because they are so unwell. Many mothers feel too ashamed to speak with others about how they are feeling. They are afraid of not living up to the idea of a "good mother" and might become more and more withdrawn. Some women say that they no longer recognized themselves.

Taking care of a newborn baby is a real challenge. Some women do not get the emotional and practical help that they need. It is not always easy to deal with all of the changes that need to be made to care full-time for a new baby. Coping with the everyday stress and getting used to your new life can be very difficult — and sometimes it may even be depressing... Read more about Postpartum Depression

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Depression: The Treatment and Management of Depression in Adults (Updated Edition)

This clinical guideline on depression is an updated edition of the previous guidance (published in 2004). It was commissioned by NICE and developed by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, and sets out clear, evidence- and consensus-based recommendations for healthcare staff on how to treat and manage depression in adults.

Oestrogens and progestins for preventing and treating postpartum depression

Additional research needed to evaluate the effect of oestrogens for the prevention and treatment of postpartum depression but synthetic progesterones should not be administered.

Psychosocial and psychological interventions for postpartum depression

Postpartum depression affects approximately 13% of all new mothers. Many women desire to try treatment options other than medication. Results from nine trials involving 956 women found that both psychosocial (e.g., peer support, non‐directive counselling) and psychological (e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy) interventions appear to be effective in reducing symptoms of postpartum depression. The long‐term benefits are unknown. Larger trials evaluating psychosocial and psychological treatments for postpartum depression are needed to provide clear conclusions about specific intervention benefits.

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Summaries for consumers

Oestrogens and progestins for preventing and treating postpartum depression

Additional research needed to evaluate the effect of oestrogens for the prevention and treatment of postpartum depression but synthetic progesterones should not be administered.

Psychosocial and psychological interventions for postpartum depression

Postpartum depression affects approximately 13% of all new mothers. Many women desire to try treatment options other than medication. Results from nine trials involving 956 women found that both psychosocial (e.g., peer support, non‐directive counselling) and psychological (e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy) interventions appear to be effective in reducing symptoms of postpartum depression. The long‐term benefits are unknown. Larger trials evaluating psychosocial and psychological treatments for postpartum depression are needed to provide clear conclusions about specific intervention benefits.

Psychosocial and psychological interventions for preventing postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is a serious condition of significant public health importance. The purpose of this review was to examine the effect of psychosocial and psychological interventions to reduce the risk of postpartum depression compared with usual care. This review includes data from 28 randomised controlled trials involving almost 17,000 women. The preventative interventions evaluated in the included trials were diverse and the end‐points differed widely but the methodological quality was good to excellent. A clear beneficial effect in the prevention of postpartum depression was found from a range of psychosocial and psychological interventions. Promising interventions included professionally‐based postpartum home visits, lay‐ or peer‐based postpartum telephone support, and interpersonal psychotherapy. Interventions provided by various health professionals and lay individuals were similarly beneficial. Interventions that were individually‐based were beneficial as were those that involved multiple contacts. There is also evidence that interventions initiated postnatally assisted in preventing postpartum depression as were those specifically targeting 'at‐risk' mothers. Many questions remain unanswered and additional research is needed.

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More about Postpartum Depression

Photo of a young adult woman

Also called: Puerperal depression, Post-partum depression, Post-natal depression, PPD

Other terms to know:
Depression, Major Depression (Major Depressive Disorder), Pregnancy (Gestation)

Related articles:
Depression After Childbirth: Treatment Approaches

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