What are the Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a more severe form of the baby blues. It can affect any new mom, and is generally described as depression that lasts longer than two weeks, and may result in weepiness, mood changes, anxiety, sleeplessness and disinterest in your newborn. The even more serious postpartum psychosis, where a mother might actively seek to harm herself or her newborn, or other children, and have episodes of mania, panic attacks and the like, may derive from untreated postpartum depression. Many moms or soon to be moms wonder if there is any way to tell if they’re more like to encounter PPD, and if there is anything that can be done to prevent the condition.

Therapists and medical doctors have done intensive study on postpartum depression, and there are definitely certain risk factors for developing the condition. It’s important to understand that these are elements of risk, not a guarantee that you will develop PPD. Many people can have all the risk factors in place without experiencing PPD, and others can have no risk factors for the condition and still develop it. Pregnancy alone is a risk factor, since all women will have some leveling off of pregnancy hormones that can create symptoms of PPD.


Perhaps one of the most certain risks is having previously had postpartum depression after the birth of another child. This can also occur after the miscarriage of another child, or the stillbirth of a child. In fact, we shouldn’t view PPD as unique to mothers whose children survive; it is very possible to have the condition when a child doesn’t survive and moms are likely to experience significant depression if they lose a baby, even in the very early stages of pregnancy.

Family history is equally important. Women whose mothers or sisters had postpartum depression are more at risk, and in general, family history of depression and bipolar conditions may mean a person is more generally prone toward developing depression at any stage of life. A personal history of treated depression, panic disorder, bipolar conditions or obsessive compulsive disorder may all mean symptoms of PPD are more likely to occur, even if a person is being treated for these conditions. Medical conditions like hypothyroidism (something easily assessed through a blood test) may create postpartum depression too, with extra moodiness and extreme fatigue.

Genetics or medical histories alone aren’t the only risk factors. Women encountering extreme stress slightly before, at, or after the end of pregnancy are more at risk. Stress can take many forms and include stress within a marriage, major life changing events (aside from a baby’s birth), losing a loved one, or experiencing a serious change in financial outlook. Moms are usually advised not to make life changes they can avoid like relocating across the country or even moving to a brand new house around the time a baby will be born. If you are under a lot of stress from life changes, seeing a counselor before you have a baby may be a very good way to help cope with the additional stress of a new baby on top of all other chaotic things in your life.

Adequate support is very important to new moms. Women who are isolated, don’t get help from partners, friends, or family, and who have few people to talk to may be more likely to develop postpartum depression. Being a single parent is also a risk factor. Other times things can go very well and mothers have plenty of support, but a traumatic birth, the health of a newborn, or even just the stress of caring for a newborn may increase risk. Being able to breastfeed may reduce risk, since lactation and nursing stimulates the production of brain chemicals that actually calm us. Frustration breastfeeding or inability to nurse a child (or choice) can conversely increase chances of encountering PPD.

You should consult your doctor if you think you have postpartum depression or may be developing it. Given increasing knowledge on this subject, your doctor is very likely to go through a checklist with you regarding these risk factors. If he or she fails to do so, mention your concern if you note you may be at higher risk. Getting help and support prior to onset of PPD, and having a doctor prepared to address it if needed, is much better than suffering through a potentially life-threatening condition that is quite treatable.



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Post 1

Does anyone have any information if there is an

effect on the newborn child of a mother who had

postpartum psychosis after the birth. My son is 28

now and is having some problems. I have set up a e-mail account - not my own name but would appreciate any feed back I can get to try to help my boy. thanks much.

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