What causes postpartum mental health conditions

Mental health conditions during pregnancy and early parenthood can affect anyone, regardless of your background. Perinatal Mood Disorders do not have a single cause, but likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors. After childbirth, the levels of hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, many mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Stresses during pregnancy and early parenthood

Getting used to being a parent can be hard work – and that’s if everything goes smoothly. If you add to it a colicky baby, difficulty sleeping or recovering from a complicated birth, you could find yourself feeling pretty stressed out. If you’re dealing with a number of issues over a period of time, keep an eye on your moods and seek support if you need it. 

Factors that can increase stress

  • a stressful or unplanned pregnancy

  • obstetric complications in the past, including fertility problems

  • a very long labor and/or complicated birth

  • severe baby blues after the birth

  • an anxious, perfectionist personality or being a 'worrier'

  • low self-esteem and being self-critical

  • difficulty with breastfeeding

  • a premature baby or problems with your or your baby's health, including separation issues

  • continuing lack of sleep or rest

  • an unsettled baby (e.g. problems with feeding and sleeping)

  • being a single parent

  • being a teenage parent

  • being the parent of more than one baby (e.g. twins or triplets).

This doesn’t mean that every new parent who faces challenges will develop a mental health condition – different combinations of risk factors affect us in different ways, and protective factors can strengthen our mental health and improve our resilience.

Protective factors

If we think about risk factors as the negative things that can chip away at our mental health, protective factors are the positive things that build us up and give us the skills and support to deal with challenges.

These include:

  • Strong support networks – family, friends, community, other new parents

  • Positive sense of identity and cultural heritage

  • Being physically healthy and taking care of yourself – exercising, eating well, reducing stress where you can

  • Good coping and problem-solving skills

  • Optimism – a belief that life has meaning and hope

  • A positive attitude to support seeking

  • Access to support services


Wondering where to turn for help? Doing a self-assessment for depression, anxiety, or OCD can help.


Practical and emotional support are important in protecting against perinatal mental health disorders. Take this survey to see how your social support system measures up.

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are concerned about someone else who may be suicidal, please call the Buckelew Suicide Prevention Hotline: 

For Sonoma County: 1-855-587-6373

For Marin County: 415-499-1100

For Grief Support: 415-499-1195

National Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255



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