3 Things Science Still Can't Tell Us About PPD

by Annamarya Scaccia

One in nine parents will experience postpartum depression. That's the latest statistic from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over the years, more light has been shed on the prevalence of postpartum depression in the United States, which has allowed more research to emerge. But here are three things science still can't tell us about postpartum depression.

Parents dealing with PPD have a hard time functioning or caring for their children. They feel frustration and anxiety, pain and self-loathing. A few parents with PPD may also develop postpartum psychosis, which can lead to suicide or infanticide. But because mental health is so stigmatized, many of these parents living with postpartum depression won't seek treatment, exacerbating their symptoms and making it harder to recover. Undiagnosed and untreated PPD can also impact a child's emotional and cognitive development, according to a 2010 Infant Behavior Development study.

Although a lot is known already about postpartum depression, there are still many things that are left up in the air. More research is needed for doctors and advocates to fully understand what causes PPD, who it affects, and when the condition actually starts in order to treat the condition effectively and holistically.

What Causes Postpartum Depression

Here's what scientists do know about postpartum depression: PPD is not the same as the "baby blues," it can last up to a year after childbirth, and it can affect any person carrying a child. But what scientists do not know is what actually brings about postpartum depression. Although a number of risk factors have been identified, researchers have yet to identify a single cause of PPD, according to Royal College of Psychiatrists. Instead, hormonal changes, prior history of depression or anxiety, lack of social support, and stress. among other factors, are thought to contribute to postpartum depression's onset.

The Connection Between Postpartum Depression & Pregnancy Loss

Postpartum depression is often associated with live births, but PPD can also affect people who've experienced pregnancy loss because they too undergo the chemical, social, and psychological changes brought on by carrying a child. Miscarriage, which is the sudden loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks, happens in about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies, according to the Mayo Clinic. But other types of pregnancy loss can occur, such as from preterm delivery, stillbirth, and neonatal loss. CDC research on postpartum depression, though, doesn't include data on people who've experienced pregnancy loss, so it's not known to what extent PPD occurs after pregnancies that do not result in live births.

When Postpartum Depression Actually Starts

Prevailing research shows that postpartum depression starts within a few days to up to a year after childbirth, according to the American Pregnancy Association. But emerging studies have found that postnatal depression can actual start during pregnancy, the Daily Mail reported. Research out of the University of North Carolina found that some pregnant people can experience an onset of postpartum depression symptoms while still pregnant, and is more likely to "be deeper and more severe" than those symptoms that emerge after childbirth. Although it is widely accepted that PPD starts after having a baby, the UNC study does question how doctors diagnose the condition in patients.

If you're struggling with postpartum depression, you don't have to go through the journey alone. Reach out to your doctor about treatment options or, if safer, visit Postpartum Support International's website for resources and support. If you are in crisis and need to talk to someone, whether or not you feel suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you believe you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call 911.