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WHAT IS POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a medical condition that can occur after having a baby. This depression could eventually go away but could also get worse, making it difficult for you to care for your baby.  Postpartum depression is a real illness and not a sign that a new mom is weak or not working hard enough to get better. 8 to 19% of women experience postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms. BIPOC women are at an increased risk for PPD.

Postpartum depression (PPD), also known as perinatal depression, is a mood disorder that occurs during pregnancy or after a recent birth. The condition can create bonding issues between a mother and her baby, contribute to sleep and feeding problems, and cause mental, emotional, developmental and verbal complications in children. PPD affects one in eight new mothers, but the risk is significantly higher for new mothers of color. Notably, while Black women are more likely to have PPD, they are less likely to receive help.

Pregnant

There are a number of factors that may contribute to increased rates of PPD among Black women and low levels of treatment, including lifestyle and living conditions. Identifying and understanding these factors may be a lifesaving measure. Ultimately, accessing treatment that includes cultural understanding is critical in improving the health outcomes for expecting Black women and those that have recently given birth.

Signs and Symptoms

 

Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression

According to the CDC, symptoms of PPD include:

  • Guilt

  • Fears of harming the baby

  • Feeling angry

  • Isolating from family

  • Feeling disconnected from their baby

  • Crying more than normal

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms for postpartum depression include:

  • Trouble sleeping when your baby sleeps (more than the lack of sleep new moms usually get)

  • Feeling numb or disconnected from your baby

  • Having scary or negative thoughts about your baby, such as thinking someone will take your baby away or hurt your baby

  • Worrying that you will hurt your baby

  • Feeling guilty about not being a good mom, or ashamed that you cannot care for your baby

Friends & Family Can Help

Many mothers feel isolated and completely alone after having a baby. Fathers, family and friends can provide help by:

  • Offer words of encouragement and support

  • Tell her you know how she feels and that she will get better

  • Encourage her to seek therapy and medical attention

  • Let her know she can still be a good mom even if she feels terrible

  • Call her during the day to check in and ask her how she is feeling

  • Encourage her to get as much rest as possible and make sure she gets that uninterrupted sleep

  • Be patient

Why Black Women Have A Higher Risk

Black women are three times more likely to have a maternal death than white women in the U.S. Awareness of this risk can heighten stress and anxiety during pregnancy, potentially placing women of color at risk for PPD. Many researchers suggest providers prioritize examining social factors to further understand and address these health disparities. Social factors that can place Black women at increased risk for PPD include:

 

  • Low income or education

  • High stress living environments

  • Exposure to trauma

  • Food insecurity

  • Lack of access to quality care or health coverage

 

Obstacles To Receiving Mental Health Care

Personally, I was fortunate that my family openly discussed, and even suggested, therapy in my household. However, despite the support from my family, I could not bring myself to tell them I had thoughts of not wanting my daughter. Many Black women experiencing PPD are silenced by shame and stigma. In the Black community, seeking help is often viewed as a sign of weakness. Additionally, when someone makes the decision to seek guidance, they are likely to turn to family, friends or religious leaders rather than trained personnel. In the U.S., when it comes to mental illness, Black individuals are less likely to receive treatment than nearly all other racial and ethnic groups. Reasons many do not seek professional help can include:

 

  • Stigma and perceptions of mental illness in the Black community

  • Experience with inaccurate diagnoses

  • Lack of representation or diversity in health care

  • Distrust of the health care system

  • Perceived racial discrimination

 

One common symptom of PPD is feeling hopeless. If such feelings become severe, a new mother could threaten her life and or die by suicide. It is important that Black mothers receive help as soon as possible to prevent symptoms from escalating.

 

While symptoms of postpartum depression have been widely documented, much of the research conducted and screening tools developed have been focused on white women. As a result, doctors may miss somatic symptoms that tend to present in nonwhite women, such as high blood pressure or unexplained body aches, pain and nausea. If a new mother is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with a provider.

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