Top 11 Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 by Meg   •   Filed under Postpartum Depression



Postpartum depression affects between ten and twenty percent of American women. While there are a number of symptoms associated with PPD (discussed here), there are just as many risk factors that can increase the odds of ending up this disorder.




  1. Hormonal changes including thyroid dysfunction:According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, author of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms?, pregnancy can put a great deal of strain on adrenal glands and other organs. Kharrazian reports that women often  slip into a low thyroid state postpartum due to the additional demands on the pituitary. According to Kharrazian, hormonal demands, both with pregnancy and with birth, can overwhelm the system. Add to that the adrenal distress many women enter pregnancy with, and you may have a recipe for depression risk1.
  2. Insecurity about physical changes:Women who have lower self-esteem may be more at risk for depressive symptoms following childbirth23. This may be due to already-in-place negative or distorted thought patterns that can be easily triggered by stress, new demands of infants and bodily insecurity.  
  3. Stress in the postpartum period: Those with higher levels of stress postpartum tend to have higher rates of depressive responses3. This may be due to overwhelming an already fragile system with hormones like cortisol which can throw things out of balance. 
  4. History of depression or other mental health issues: Those with histories of anxiety or depression may have an easier time slipping back into those patterns3. This may be due to the fact that the brain pathways needed to maintain scary thoughts postpartum already exist. 
  5. Medical complications at birth including cesarian (particularly if it was unexpected):Research supports the idea that medical intervention and cesarian may increase risk for PPD4. This may be due to the lack of natural hormone regulation present with vaginal birth, or increased stress associated with surgical deliveries. 
  6. Infant medical issues: Women with infants in the NICU, or who have children with medical issues, have higher rates of PPD 5. This may be due to stress from concern for child's well-being or the impact of early separation(discussed below).
  7. Money stress/economic factors: Those with additional stress about finances may be more at risk for PPD symptoms3. This may be due to the strain placed on internal regulation systems, or excess stress hormones (discussed above). 
  8. Lack of support/isolation: Humans evolved to parent in groups. Isolation post birth may have the ability to trigger innate drives towards abandonment (discussed here). 
  9. Relationship issues/marital status: Again, it's all about the stress. Those worried about the health of a relationship may have  more trouble dealing with their own emotions and demands of an infant if stress hormones are already too high.
  10. Early separations: Early separations between mothers and infants may trigger undesired effects on the brains of mammals6. In humans it may also have the ability to trigger depressive responses due to the mistaken belief that the child has died within older brain systems (discussed here).
  11. Lack of breastfeeding: Breast-feeding may reduce the risk for postpartum depression8,7. This may be due to its ability to regulate hormones and provide anxiety reduction, in addition to fostering expected connections between mother and child.

While not all of these are unavoidable, by looking at the bigger picture women can begin to tease apart her own experience and seek appropriate treatment. 

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Topic-Relevant Resources

Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms (when my lab tests are normal)
Exploration of the causes and effects of thyroid malfunction on mental health and other body systems

The Woman That Never Evolved: With a New Preface and Bibliographical Updates, Revised Edition
Anthropology, wit and the evolution of the modern female.

When Panic Attacks
Detailed overview of cognitive behavioral techniques for changing negative thought patterns