Very few things in life are as stressful as having a baby. Even if the pregnancy goes completely smoothly, you have good doctors and a supportive network of friends and family, and there are no financial worries to complicate things, everyone’s likely to experience some rocky emotions.

Sometimes, though, it’s not just a reaction to the dramatic changes in your life or the regular “baby blues”. Sometimes, it’s something more serious. From time immemorial, we’ve known that women who have recently given birth can experience low moods. Now there’s an official name, “postpartum depression”, but we still don’t fully understand how it works.

The number of women who experience postpartum depression is somewhere between 15 and 20%. You may be surprised to know that a small percentage of fathers may also experience depression when a baby is born, even though they didn’t undergo the same kind of physical strain. It’s definitely something to be aware of from the start of a pregnancy so it can be identified and treated as quickly as possible.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can be similar to other forms of the condition. There can be sadness, a feeling of emptiness, guilt, shame, hopelessness and low self-esteem. Physical signs can include exhaustion, poor appetite, low libido and a lack of interest in hobbies and activities. In severe cases, there may also be postpartum psychosis, which can interfere with your perception of reality.

One thing that is specific to postpartum depression is how it affects the ability of the parent to bond with their baby. It can be hard to build routines with feeding and sleeping or to take care of basic health needs. This can have a more long-term impact on the child’s overall development.

Cases of postpartum depression can occur any time during the first year after birth. Hormonal changes may be a contributing factor, as can genetics, family history, stress and environment, but we don’t know for sure. Treatment generally involves ensuring lots of professional support is available to counteract feelings of isolation. This may involve various forms of psychotherapy. In some cases, antidepressants may be prescribed.

Our understanding of postpartum depression is improving, and with it, old stigmas are being reduced. It can still be hard to identify and treat, but there is at least a recognition that this is something important to be aware of when having a baby.

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