Shedding Light on Maternal Mental Health: Postpartum Depression

What it truly means to have “baby blues”

Shanzeh Haji
12 min readOct 21, 2023

Motherhood is something that touches us all, no matter who we are or where we come from.

But here’s a story that doesn’t always make it to the Instagram feed:

You’ve just had a baby, and everyone is overjoyed. The baby’s room is filled with colours, and it should be a time of pure happiness. But, as the days pass, you start to feel overwhelmed, disconnected, and incredibly sad. It’s hard to put these feelings into words, so you keep it to yourself.

This is the reality for many new moms worldwide. Postpartum Depression (PPD) doesn’t care about your age, gender, or background. It can cast a shadow over what should be a beautiful time.

Outline of Article:

1. Introduction: Mothers are Unable to Care for their Children during the Most Critical Time

1.1. Defining Postpartum Depression

2. Causes: The Interplay of Hormonal Flux, Inflammation, Social Support, Societal Expectations, and External Stressors

2.1. Physical Causes of Postpartum Depression

2.2. Environmental and Emotional Causes of Postpartum Depression

3. Status Quo: Guiding the treatment of Postpartum Depression through psychotherapy, and medication

3.1. Assessing the Risk of PPD: The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)

3.2. Treating PPD: Cognitive-behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy

3.3. Treating PPD: Using Antidepressants

4. Bridging the Gap with Technology: The Need for a New Approach

5. TL;DR

Mothers are Unable to Care for their Children during the Most Critical Time

1.1. Defining Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a prevalent condition that affects up to 15% or 1 in 7 women after childbirth.

It encompasses persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fatigue that can endure for weeks or even months following delivery. These emotions can hinder a mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn. PPD can emerge within the first 1 to 3 weeks postpartum and is categorized as a type of perinatal depression, which includes depression during pregnancy or within the first year after giving birth.

While most new mothers experience “baby blues” characterized by mood swings and crying spells during the initial two weeks post-delivery, some may develop a more severe and persistent condition known as postpartum depression. And, in rare cases, postpartum psychosis, an extreme mood disorder. Postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness or character flaws; it’s often a complication of childbirth.

The problem is that nearly half of PPD cases go undiagnosed due to privacy concerns and the stigma surrounding them. This condition can impair maternal brain function and behaviour, impacting the mother’s relationship with her infant.

The Interplay of Hormonal Flux, Inflammation, Social Support, Societal Expectations, and External Stressors

Now that we have delved into the problem, let’s explore some of the underlying causes of postpartum depression.

2.1. Physical Causes of Postpartum Depression

1. Hormonal Changes: After childbirth, significant changes occur in postpartum hormonal levels, affecting various physiological systems. The hormones estrogen and progesterone, crucial during pregnancy, decrease rapidly. These hormonal fluctuations play a pivotal role in the brain’s regulation of mood and emotions.

Estrogen interacts with neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, the principal players in mood regulation, which rely on intricate neurochemical pathways. The hormonal changes during and after pregnancy can influence the activity of these neurotransmitters, triggering imbalances that contribute to PPD. These imbalances often manifest as persistent sadness, loss of interest, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns, all characteristics of PPD.

Progesterone, another hormone prominently involved in pregnancy, also experiences a significant drop postpartum. Progesterone has a calming effect on the central nervous system, and its reduction can contribute to feelings of restlessness and emotional vulnerability.

2. Inflammation: Pregnancy and childbirth trigger a series of immune responses within the body to adapt to the unique demands of gestation (the period of time between conception and birth) and delivery. Inflammation is a fundamental part of this response, acting as a protective mechanism against potential infections and supporting tissue repair.

What makes inflammation relevant to PPD is the potential for it to become dysregulated or chronic. When inflammation persists or becomes imbalanced, it can extend its influence on mood and emotional well-being. This becomes particularly significant in the context of PPD, as the inflammatory response may reach the brain.

Neurotransmitters, the brain’s messengers, are essential for transmitting information between neurons. In Postpartum Depression (PPD), a proper balance of these chemicals is crucial. Imbalances can cause neurological and psychological symptoms by over- or under-stimulating the brain and body.

Within the brain, inflammatory molecules known as cytokines can traverse the protective blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system. This interaction can disrupt the delicate equilibrium of neurotransmitters, similar to the effect of estrogen decline.

2.2. Environmental and Emotional Causes of Postpartum Depression

One critical factor that significantly influences PPD risk is the availability of social and familial support. Insufficient support during this time can leave new mothers feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

This emotional strain, compounded by external stressors like financial difficulties or complications during childbirth, creates a perfect storm for PPD to develop. The burden of managing these stressors, coupled with societal expectations of idealized motherhood, can intensify feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

1. Social and Familial Support or Lack of Support: During the postpartum period, new mothers grapple with a range of physiological and emotional challenges. Adequate support not only provides emotional reassurance but also offers practical assistance, helping in the adjustment to the demands of motherhood.

Those with lower levels of social support were 10.26 times more likely to develop PPD compared to women receiving high levels of social support.

The absence of such support can precipitate a profound sense of isolation and overwhelm, significantly augmenting the susceptibility to PPD. This isolation exacerbates the psychological distress experienced by new mothers, contributing to their vulnerability.

2. Societal Expectations: Societal ideals and pressures surrounding motherhood often project unrealistic standards and expectations. The pressure to conform to these ideals fosters a profound sense of inadequacy and guilt in new mothers.

This difference between societal expectations and the authentic experience of motherhood contributes to heightened emotional distress. The apprehension of falling short of these societal ideals may discourage women from seeking assistance for PPD. Stigma and societal judgment are potent deterrents that impede help-seeking behaviour.

3. External Stressors: External stressors, including financial difficulties or complications during childbirth, introduce an additional layer of emotional burden during the postpartum period. Financial strain, in particular, intensifies anxiety and emotional distress as new mothers grapple with concerns related to providing for their newborn’s needs and sustaining their families.

Complications arising during childbirth, whether linked to maternal health or infant well-being, compound the emotional challenges faced by new mothers.

Status Quo — Guiding the treatment of Postpartum Depression through psychotherapy, and medication

Given the seriousness of the issue, prompt and effective interventions are essential to address the problem and mitigate its impact on individuals and communities.

3.1. Assessing the Risk of PPD: The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)

The current way of assessing the risk of postpartum depression (PPD) is through the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). It is a self-report questionnaire consisting of ten questions or statements that are designed to help identify symptoms of depression experienced by new mothers during the postpartum period. These questions cover various emotional and psychological aspects that are commonly associated with depression, such as feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, and thoughts of self-harm.

The EPDS is typically administered by healthcare providers, such as doctors or nurses, during routine postnatal check-ups. Women are asked to complete the questionnaire, providing their responses to the statements. The total score on the EPDS is used to assess the severity of depressive symptoms, with higher scores indicating a higher likelihood of PPD.

But, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) has some issues.

It is estimated that nearly 50% of mothers with postpartum depression are misdiagnosed, showing the flaw in current diagnosis methods.

EPDS relies on self-reported answers, which can be influenced by how individuals see things and how honest they are. With the prevalence of social stigmas, new moms might be less inclined to truthfully communicate their feelings with a doctor. Also, it mainly looks at emotional aspects, while missing physical PPD symptoms. It requires women to have access to check-ups or feel comfortable talking to healthcare providers. But not everyone does. Plus, it’s a one-size-fits-all tool and might not fit different cultures or individual experiences. The scores can be hard to understand, and there’s no set level for PPD risk. Even if PPD risk is found, there might not be enough help afterward.

Let’s just say the doctor was accurately able to detect postpartum depression, then what?

3.2. Treating PPD: Cognitive-behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy

1. Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a structured and effective form of psychotherapy used to address Postpartum Depression (PPD):

  • It begins by helping individuals identify and challenge the negative thought patterns that underline their feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety associated with PPD. Through this process, patients gain insight into their condition and learn to replace negative thought patterns with more positive and realistic ones.
  • CBT gives individuals with practical coping strategies, such as stress management techniques and problem-solving skills, which can help them regain a sense of control over their emotions and circumstances. Behavioural activation, a component of CBT, encourages engagement in positive activities, even when motivation is low.
CBT finds the connections between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.

But, CBT isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It does not explore the root causes of PPD deeply, like hormonal imbalances or social factors. Effective CBT demands time and commitment, which can be tough for those with busy schedules or limited mental health resources. It relies heavily on patient motivation, which can be challenging since PPD severity affects motivation. CBT also works best when combined with other treatments, like medication, and may not stand alone for severe PPD cases.

2. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), another approach for treating PPD concentrates on improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills.

  • It helps individuals identify how PPD is affecting their relationships with partners, family members, and friends by addressing conflicts, communication breakdowns, and other interpersonal issues. IPT teaches improved communication skills, aiding individuals in expressing their emotions and needs more effectively.
  • IPT addresses unresolved grief or loss issues that may contribute to depression and assists individuals in adapting to their new roles as mothers. Conflict resolution strategies are provided to manage interpersonal conflicts and stressors commonly experienced during the postpartum period.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) for PPD still has some drawbacks. The narrow focus it has might overlook crucial aspects like hormonal changes and biochemical factors. Additionally, IPT may not sufficiently address broader mental health issues linked to PPD, such as anxiety and severe depression. IPT does not account for the unique circumstances and experiences of each mother, potentially leading to ineffective treatment.

3.3. Treating PPD: Using Antidepressants

In contrast to the limitations of Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) for PPD, it’s important to consider alternative treatments. One of these alternatives involves antidepressant medication, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications play a crucial role in addressing the biochemical imbalances associated with PPD. They are prescribed to help regulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain, which can contribute to the development and persistence of depressive symptoms during the postpartum period.

However, it’s important to recognize that while antidepressants can be highly effective, there are potential drawbacks.

  1. There is a wide range of side effects that individuals may experience, such as nausea, dry mouth, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and sleep disturbances. These side effects can vary in intensity and can sometimes lead to a discontinuation of medication or reduced treatment adherence.
  2. Another limitation is the delayed onset of action associated with antidepressants. It often takes several weeks for these medications to begin providing noticeable relief from PPD symptoms. This delay can be challenging for individuals who are experiencing distress and may need to endure persistent symptoms during the waiting period.
  3. The use of antidepressant medications during breastfeeding raises concerns due to limited data. It’s unclear whether low levels of these medications in breast milk harm babies. There are worries about using them for premature babies whose bodies are still developing. Some antidepressants, like sertraline and paroxetine, seem safer for breastfeeding as they usually don’t affect the baby’s blood levels and aren’t linked to short-term problems. Newer antidepressants have less data, putting new babies at higher risk.

Bridging the Gap with Technology: The Need for a New Approach

While current methods have their merits, they often fall short in accessibility, personalization, and early detection. Mothers, especially those struggling with PPD, need a system that understands the uniqueness of their experiences and offers real-time support. My hypothesis is that the existing tools and methods for handling PPD are inadequate due to their generalized approach, lack of real-time support, and the inability to track personal, emotional and physical changes over time.

There is a need for a more comprehensive approach that not only considers the emotional and psychological aspects but also recognizes the physiological and environmental triggers of PPD.

Introducing a Novel Solution: AI-Powered Support for New Mothers

To address these gaps, I am developing an innovative solution that integrates advanced technology with human experiences: an AI-powered platform tailored for new mothers navigating the challenges of postpartum life. But why choose AI? Artificial Intelligence offers unparalleled personalization and accessibility, ensuring that help is available 24/7 and adapts to the specific needs and experiences of the user.

How the Platform Works

This digital platform is not just an app but a companion for mothers. It enables users to log and track various health metrics, such as sleep patterns, hydration, and emotional states, creating a ‘digital diary’ of their postpartum journey. This continuous tracking provides valuable insights into their well-being, highlighting patterns that could indicate a deeper issue, like PPD.

But more than a tracking tool, the platform features an AI chatbot, designed to simulate supportive conversations, much like those with a trusted friend. This chatbot doesn’t just respond to user inputs; it initiates check-ins, offers words of encouragement, and provides gentle reminders for self-care activities, contributing to the user’s emotional well-being.

The Potential Impact of AI

By utilizing AI, this platform transcends the limitations of traditional methods. It eliminates the need for scheduling appointments, thus eradicating any associated stigmas of seeking help. The AI chatbot component allows for anonymity and a judgment-free experience, empowering mothers to open up about their struggles.

The AI’s machine learning algorithms mean it gets smarter and more intuitive with each interaction. It learns from each user, making its future interactions more personalized and supportive. By identifying trends in the data, it can also suggest when a user may need to seek further help, bridging the gap between technology and traditional healthcare services.


Mothers often struggle with Postpartum Depression (PPD), which affects up to 15% of new mothers and involves persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fatigue. This condition can hinder a mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn.

PPD arises from a complex interplay of factors, including hormonal changes, inflammation, neurotransmitter imbalances, and a lack of social and familial support.

There are solutions available:

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) helps assess PPD risk, although it’s not a diagnostic tool.

Psychotherapy, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), plays a pivotal role in PPD treatment. CBT challenges negative thought patterns and provides coping strategies, while IPT focuses on improving relationships and communication skills. However, challenges in accessing and affording treatment persist.

Antidepressant medication, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) is often used to regulate brain chemistry. While effective, these medications come with potential side effects, delayed onset of action, and variability in their effectiveness among individuals.

Given the serious consequences of the current situation, it’s essential to proactively close this gap. With the emergence of new technologies, there’s tremendous potential to do so.

I appreciate your reading, and I hope you learnt something 😊. Feel free to connect with me on Linkedin and send me a note if you enjoyed reading this post or have any questions. You can also follow my Medium page and remain updated on all the content I produce!



Shanzeh Haji

I'm a 15y/o longevity enthusiast on a mission to make a positive contribution to society by exploring ways to increase lifespan