Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a mental health condition which emerges within four weeks of childbirth, and includes symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, mood fluctuations, insomnia, cognitive changes, as well as low self-esteem, difficulty coping, guilt, and possibly suicidal ideation (DSM-IV-TR).  This condition affects 10 to 13 percent of postpartum women, and a history of postpartum depression increases the risk to 25 percent (Misri, & Kendrick, 2007; Wisner, Parry, & Piontek, 2002).

It is likely that the incidence of postpartum depression is underestimated because many women suffer in silence; for example, in one study, only one-third of women who were diagnosed with postpartum depression believed that they were suffering from it, and over 80 percent had not reported their symptoms to any healthcare professional (Lee, 2006).

It has been found that postpartum depression negatively impacts mother-infant bonding and compromises infant’s social, behavioral, and cognitive development (Amankwaa, 2003; Milgrom, Ericksen, McCarthy, & Gemmill, 2006).  More specifically, it often affects the mother’s availability and sensitivity to the child, increasing the likelihood of the infant developing insecure attachments (Herring & Kaslow, 2002; Hoffman, 2006).  In stressful situations, these children often demonstrate comfort- and proximity-seeking behavior (Bowlby, 1988).

The parenting style of depressed mothers is often characteristic of conflict avoidance and submitting to their child’s non-compliance (Beck, 1999).  Their attempts to stop their children’s inappropriate behaviors or enforce consequences for misbehavior are often ineffective.

Postpartum depression is a physiologic response to hormonal changes , which is exacerbated by sleep deprivation, nutritional changes, and the stress of the new role (Wisner, Parry, & Piontek, 2002). Some research suggests that hormonal factors are primarily responsible for the onset of low mood in the first few weeks after delivery, whereas psychosocial variables play a more important etiological role in postpartum depression with later onset (Hipwell, Reynolds, & Crick, 2004).  These psychosocial variables include a previous psychiatric history, depressed mood during pregnancy, previous consultation with a doctor regarding a mental health condition, and inadequate social support (Hipwell, Reynolds & Crick, 2004, p. 212).

In psychotherapy, a psychologist can help effectively address cognitive, behavioural and affective symptoms of postpartum depression.