Home » depression » Postpartum depression: what causes it and what can you do against it?

Some women develop a depression a few weeks or months after giving birth. We call this postpartum depression (also called postnatal depression). Sometimes it starts only when the mother stops breastfeeding or when she goes back to work.

What is a postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a depression that develops around childbirth. In this, you suffer from feeling gloomy, irritable, anxious and sad for months. It can happen to you just like that. Even if you were looking forward to the arrival of your baby.

Postpartum depression usually does not start right after giving birth. But, it starts after several weeks to months. It may also not start until you go back to work or stop breastfeeding. It is also common for symptoms to begin before you give birth. About 10% of women experience depression after giving birth.

Symptoms of a postpartum depression

The symptoms of postpartum depression are usually the same symptoms associated with depression. The difference is that postpartum depression is related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Common depression symptoms are:

  • You feel gloomy and don’t feel like doing anything
  • You feel very tired
  • You are not happy with the baby
  • You are overprotective
  • You feel worthless and unfit as a parent
  • You are easily irritated and cry a lot
  • You have trouble concentrating and forget things
  • You feel powerless, desperate and anxious
  • You sleep badly
  • You eat too much or too little

The symptoms can become very intense. As a result, it can make you unable to properly care for your baby.

Causes of a postpartum depression

In depression after childbirth, there is no single obvious cause. It often arises from a combination of different factors. These can be physical, social and psychological. A stressful event can also trigger postnatal depression. Examples include medical problems during pregnancy, an illness, the death of a family member or the loss of a job.

The following things can play a role in developing postpartum depression.

Physical factors

You may have a hereditary predisposition to postpartum depression. Is depression more common in your family? Then the risk of depression after your pregnancy is higher. It is also more likely that the depression will return with a subsequent delivery. Other physical factors that can trigger postpartum depression are:

  • Changes in your hormone balance (sharp drop in the hormones oestrogen and progesterone)
  • An improperly functioning thyroid gland
  • An imbalance of vitamins and minerals in your body (especially a deficiency of vitamins B6, B12, zinc and iron)
  • Severe physical and mental fatigue

Psychological factors

Psychological factors are somewhat akin to physical factors. You can also have a predisposition to this. Some characteristics of your personality can make a postpartum depression easier to develop. Examples include:

  • You expect a lot from motherhood.
  • You make high demands on yourself.
  • You find it hard to say ‘no’.
  • You have difficulty showing emotions.

Social factors

Social factors can include relationships, culture and your environment. These are separate from a physical predisposition. Examples are:

  • Relationship problems
  • Little support from people close to you
  • A poor relationship with your parents
  • Parents, siblings who demand a lot from you
  • Money problems
  • Cultural factors
  • Wanting to be ‘the perfect mother
  • Combining motherhood with a job and housework

What can you do yourself against postpartum depression?

The first step is admitting and accepting that something is wrong. Take your feelings, complaints and symptoms seriously. Accept that you do not currently feel the way you would like to feel.

It is important to share your feelings and concerns with others. Not only does this provide relief, it helps you understand your symptoms and how serious they are. Chances are you will discover that you are not the only one with this problem.

If you find talking difficult, it may help to write down your problems. For yourself, in a diary, or to someone, in a letter.

Treatment of postpartum depression

Do the symptoms not go away or get worse? Postpartum depression is usually treatable with medication and counselling. How long treatment lasts varies from person to person.


You will usually be given antidepressants. These are medicines that, in more than half of the women, make the symptoms diminish after four to six weeks. Sometimes these medicines do not go well with breastfeeding. Fortunately, with most antidepressants, you can breastfeed as normal. You usually take these medicines for at least four to six months.


You may also be given temporary sedatives. These can reduce sleep problems, anxiety, restlessness and tension. Unlike antidepressants, these drugs work immediately. They immediately make you feel calmer.

Vitamins and hormones

Doctors will also take blood samples and look at the vitamins in your body, among other things. If you have a vitamin deficiency, it helps to eat healthy and varied meals.

Does the blood test show that your hormones are significantly out of balance? Then taking hormones after childbirth can help. For instance, you can get oestrogen. This catches the drop in estrogen levels after childbirth.

Talk therapy

talk therapy

It often helps to talk about your depression. This involves explaining what depression is and learning how to deal with it. In addition, during these talks you learn to turn a negative way of thinking into a positive one.

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