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Postpartum Depression

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Postpartum Depression


Postpartum depression (PPD) refers to mood problems that happen up to one year after giving birth. Short-term mood problems are common after giving birth. PDD is when severe problems last for more than two weeks.


The exact cause is not known. It may be due to sudden hormonal changes during and after delivery.

Risk Factors

The risk of this problem is higher in those with:

  • A prior history of depression or PPD
  • A prior history of anxiety disorders
  • A family history of mood disorders
  • Stress or conflict at home or with a partner
  • Problems breastfeeding
  • A baby who was born very early
Central Nervous System.

Hormonal changes in the brain may contribute to postpartum depression.

Female_brain_nerves_torsohttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=69886988female_nervous_system_torso.jpgFemale_brain_nerves_torsoNULLjpgFemale_brain_nerves_torsoNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\female_nervous_system_torso.jpgNULL24NULL2008-02-27270399Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Problems may be:

  • Feelings of irritability, worry, or panic
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
  • Change in weight or hunger
  • Obsessive, unreasonable thoughts
  • Repetitive fears about your child’s health and welfare
  • Poor focus, memory loss, and problems making decisions
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of energy or motivation

More severe problems may be:

  • Lack of interest in your infant
  • Fear of hurting or killing yourself or your child
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Sensing or believing things that are not real
  • Loss of contact with reality


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis may be made in a person who has had symptoms every day for at least 2 weeks.

More tests may be done to rule out other causes of depression, such as thyroid problems.


Untreated postpartum depression impacts quality of life. It can also make it hard to bond with and parent a baby. Treatment can ease symptoms and provide support until the depression has passed. Treatment may include:

  • Counseling—may be one on one session or with a support group .
  • Medicine—to ease depression or anxiety and help progress in therapy

It is also important to develop support system at home. This can include help that allows the person to get sleep, visit friends, or do activities like exercise. New parent support groups can also help.


People at risk for PDD should talk to their doctors about counseling methods that may help.





  • ACOG Committee Opinion No. 650: physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126(6):e135-e142. Reaffirmed 2017.
  • How to prevent postpartum depression. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/first-year-of-life/how-to-prevent-postpartum-depression.
  • Postpartum depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/postpartum-depression.
  • Postpartum depression. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/postpartum-care-and-associated-disorders/postpartum-depression.
  • Postpartum depression. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Postpartum-Depression.
  • Stewart DE, Vigod S. Postpartum Depression. N Engl J Med. 2016 Dec 1;375(22):2177-2186.


  • Elizabeth Margaret Prusak, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.