In a recent large-scale screening of 10,000 women for postpartum depression, 14%, or 1,400 had depression four to six weeks following birth, but for a third of those (466), the depression actually started during their pregnancies. For many other mothers, postpartum depression doesn’t begin until later, with meta-analysis showing that about 20% of women experience depression some time in the year after giving birth, about half of them with serious symptoms.
Another recent study found that at both two weeks and six months following birth, 11% of new mothers had obsessive-compulsive symptoms, which is a rate that is about four times that of the general population. However, the 11% with symptoms at 6 months postpartum were not the same as who had the symptoms at 2 weeks
There are many factors that contribute to create this vulnerability in new mothers, including enormous hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy, then plummet after birth. Sleep deprivation also plays a role, as does having to return too early to work, difficulty coping with breastfeeding, or having a colicky baby.
And new research has shown that not just mothers get postpartum depression — fathers can get it too. A study that looked at 10,000 men over 23 years found that for men who were fathers, their depressive symptoms increased by 68% during their child’s first five years of life.
It is of paramount importance for mothers and fathers to talk about the depression or anxiety that can follow the birth of their children. When loving partners become depleted, they are no longer able to give support and affection to each other. Knowing you’re not alone is a first step in finding healing.