Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety: Why Is This Happening to Me?

Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety: Why Is This Happening to Me?

If you or a loved one recognize the symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, the next logical question is “how did this happen?” According to the experts, there isn’t a singular cause. Following is a list of physical, emotional, and lifestyle factors which may contribute to the development.

This illness not only affects women who have given birth but also pregnant women, adoptive mothers, women who have had a miscarriage or still birth. Even fathers can experience their own form of postpartum depression and/or postpartum anxiety.

Physical changes:

  • A dramatic shift in hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) in your body
  • Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply — which can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and depressed
  • Changes in your blood volume, blood pressure, immune system, and metabolism can contribute to fatigue and mood swings

Emotional factors:

  • Feelings of being incompetent because of sleep deprivation interferes with ability to make even simplest of decisions
  • Anxiety about your ability to care for a newborn.
  • Lower self-esteem because of feelings of being less attractive.
  • Struggle with your sense of identity and thought that you’ve lost control over your life.
  • Failure to “fall in love at first sight” with your new child

Lifestyle influences:

  • Problems with your partner, including being abused by your partner
  • Smoking, abusing alcohol, or using street drugs
  • The death of a loved one or illness in you or a loved one
  • An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
  • Recent or recurring financial problems
  • A difficult pregnancy or childbirth, or your baby was born with a health problem
  • Change after birth in family dynamics and relationship with partner
  • Lack of support from your partner or other loved ones
  • Difficulty breast-feeding
  • A demanding baby or older siblings

Anyone can develop postpartum depression or anxiety, but there are other considerations, which make some more vulnerable. Current research indicates depression or anxiety during pregnancy is one of the strongest predictors of postpartum depression. Women who have had a previous miscarriage or stillbirth are more susceptible because of concern that something else could go wrong. Additionally, those with a personal or family history of anxiety or previous episodes of depression have increased risk as well as those who were not treated for previous postpartum depression or anxiety. The risk of postpartum psychosis is higher for women who have bipolar disorder.

In addition to these factors, consider a new parent has the added expectation this should be one of the happiest times in his/her life, and instinctively he/she should know what to do. Karen Kleiman, founder and director of the Postpartum Stress Center and author of This Wasn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression shares her experience. “It’s like holding your breath for a really long time,” Kleiman says. “Then all of a sudden we get what we think we want and think, ‘I finally have what I want, why do I feel so bad? And now on top of that I feel guilty for feeling so bad.”

Know these illnesses are common and temporary.

Eating well-balanced meals and snacks, getting enough rest, seeking help of any kind (childcare, shopping and errands, home maintenance) and getting exercise and fresh air can alleviate symptoms. Also, seek emotional support from family, friends, and a professional counselor if needed. With proper attention to self-care and emotional health, you will get through this.

Ann Sheerin, MA
Asheerin @

Photo Credit: Public Domain

One Response to Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety: Why Is This Happening to Me?

  1. Thanks for writing this article, Ann! I found out about it through Postpartum Stress center’s Facebook feed.

    As a perinatal mental health advocate, I encourage women and health professionals to educate themselves about all the perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS). Apart from postpartum depression and anxiety there are four other PMADS listed on the Postpartum Support International website.

    I was diagnosed with the PMAD of bipolar, peripartum onset (postpartum bipolar), a.k.a. childbirth-triggered bipolar.

    Postpartum psychosis can be accompanied by bipolar, peripartum onset, but not always. At age thirty-seven I had my second baby. I walked into the maternity ward in labor with no previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Within 24 hours of my daughter’s birth I was hypomanic and hypergraphic (compulsive writing); no one recognized I was in trouble until six weeks later when I was acutely manic.

    It was then when I voluntarily admitted myself for hospitalization and received an official diagnosis of bipolar, peripartum onset with no psychotic features.

    My Huffington Post article about postpartum bipolar (with a beautiful meme by Karen Kleiman):

    thanks so much for reading,

    Dyane Leshin-Harwood
    Member, Postpartum Support International, International Society of Bipolar Disorders

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