11 Postpartum Depression Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Postpartum depression symptoms can be triggered by different factors, making the recovery process much longer than it needs to be.

With a proper treatment plan, postpartum depression can go into remission.  But postpartum depression triggers are internal or environment factors that can cause symptoms to flare up again. These can continue to affect mothers for years after the postpartum period. 

It can be frustrating to battle symptoms of postpartum depression for years, and it might even feel like it will never go away.  Identifying your specific triggers can help you to avoid them, which means you’ll be less likely to experience a postpartum depression relapse.

Here are some of the most common postpartum depression triggers to watch out for.
11 Postpartum Depression Triggers and How to Avoid Them
*This post contains affiliate and/or paid links which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love from companies that I trust. Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. I am simply a mother who has been there and lived to tell the tale.
11 Postpartum Depression Triggers and How to Avoid Them 11 Postpartum Depression Triggers

Sleep Deprivation

Our brains need sleep and there isn’t an acceptable substitution for it.  No amount of caffeine, medications, diet changes or exercise can replicate what sleep does for our bodies.  If our brains don’t get the chance to reset each night, they don’t function very well during the day.

Sleep deprivation is an especially big factor for postpartum moms.  Babies have much shorter sleep cycles than adults do.  This means that a mother’s brain isn’t getting the chance to fully “reboot” because it’s constantly being interrupted by a hungry baby.  So it’s no surprise that sleep deprivation is one of the most common postpartum depression triggers. 

In order to get the most undisturbed sleep possible, enlist the help of your spouse, a family member or hire a postpartum doula for a night shift or two.  You may also want to work on getting your baby into a good sleep routine, which can help you avoid sleep deprivation in the long run. 

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Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is another one of the more common postpartum depression triggers.  In fact, many mothers report feeling more stressed about breastfeeding than they did about labor and delivery.  Breastfeeding can be a struggle and it can cause pain, frustration, shame and embarrassment.

Mothers who struggle with breastfeeding can feel guilty, unworthy, judged  or end up feeling resentful and full of regret. All of these feelings certainly contribute to symptoms of postpartum depression.  But some mothers found that breastfeeding eased their symptoms and helped them to bond with their babies.  Each woman’s experience is so different, but if this is a trigger for you, know that you are not alone.

Education can be key to successful breastfeeding.  While it’s promoted as “all-natural,” it doesn’t come naturally to the majority of mothers.  Consider hiring a lactation consultant, or take an online breastfeeding course from home.  If all else fails, know that it’s perfectly okay to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula for the sake of your mental health. 

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Pain

When we think of pregnancy and childbirth, we associate it with some form of pain.  This is often thought of as a rite of passage and many mothers spend a lot of time preparing for it.  But in some cases, the pain of childbirth can trigger unexpected feelings and suppressed memories. 

A painful delivery or recovery can be one of the first postpartum depression triggers, but pain is a trigger that can linger long after the recovery period.  When we experience pain in another form, such as menstrual cramping, back pain or migraines, it can trigger the symptoms of postpartum depression again.

This trigger can be especially difficult to avoid due to the fact that pain comes in so many different forms.  Identifying that pain is a trigger is a good first step.  Experiment with different pain treatment options and try to deal with the root cause of any chronic pain, in order to avoid being triggered long term.

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Weight Fluctuations

The weight issue is another trigger that affects expectant and new mothers.  During pregnancy, a woman can gain 20 – 40 lbs in the span of 9 months.  And then immediately following childbirth, her body can look unrecognizable.  There will be pressure to lose all the extra weight as fast as possible.  She may also have to deal with a c-section scar, stretch marks, loose skin and sagging breasts.  

These weight and body changes can have a significant effect on our mental health.  Even if body image was not an issue for us prior to becoming a mother, postpartum depression can take a hit on our self esteem

While maintaining a healthy weight is important, embracing our new bodies is equally as important to keep weight changes from triggering postpartum depression symptoms.  

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Hormonal Imbalances

The fluctuating hormone levels during pregnancy and in the postpartum period are completely normal.  They are responsible for the extreme mood swings, weepiness and other symptoms referred to as “the baby blues.”  It’s not unusual for hormones to also take all the blame when it comes to postpartum depression, however we know that there’s much more to it than that.  

Certain hormonal imbalances can be postpartum depression triggers.  Some women find their symptoms are triggered upon the return of their menstrual cycle or with another pregnancy.  Certain illnesses can also cause hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid problems or diabetes

There are plenty of natural ways to keep your hormone levels balanced to avoid a postpartum depression relapse, but always speak to your doctor first to identify the cause of the imbalance and come up with the right treatment plan. 

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Relationship Problems

Marriage and relationship problems can begin or get worse following the birth of a child and they are a major cause of stress and anxiety for both parents.  Postpartum mothers are extra sensitive, irritable and sometimes prone to rage.  They can be extremely difficult to communicate and reason with.

In addition to the lack of communication and mood swings, it can be really difficult to open up about all of these scary thoughts and feelings.  Instead, women tend to shut down, retreat away from their spouses, and have difficulty with intimacy.  

Despite how hard it might be, try your best to talk to your loved one about what you’re feeling.  Getting an official diagnosis may help you both to understand what’s going on.  Couples therapy is also a good option to help break down the barriers.

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Grief/Loss

Grief is a major depression trigger that can affect postpartum moms.  Pregnancy and welcoming a new baby are symbolized by joy, happiness and new life.  It can be shocking when these actions cause an opposite effect, but sometimes they do.  

A mother who previously suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of a child may be triggered by grief upon giving birth to a healthy baby.  Postpartum depression symptoms may also be triggered when a woman thinks of someone who previously passed away and isn’t present to meet their child.

Grief is a part of life and there’s really no avoiding it.  If you’re struggling with the loss of a loved one, talk about them openly.  Talk to your baby about them, look at an album full of pictures or share stories about them.  Try not to keep all that pain inside, and instead, memorialize the ones you have loved and lost. 

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Holidays/Anniversaries

Special occasions can actually be quite difficult for a mother with postpartum depression.  Certain dates or holidays might stir up traumatic memories that are postpartum depression triggers.  Plus, social anxiety and the desire to withdraw from conversation are common symptoms of postpartum depression. This makes it very hard to get together in large crowds, even if they are all people whom you love. 

As these dates approach, try to be proactive about your condition.  Take the day off work, scale down the festivities or plan a vacation instead.  Changing your memories about that day might be hard, but not impossible.

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Weather

Cold weather and rainy days can make anyone feel depressed but it’s much deeper than that.  Depression thrives when a person feels isolated.  And there’s nothing better at keeping a mom with a new baby locked up indoors than some bad weather.  Hot weather can also encourage a new or expecting mother to seek out the cool air conditioning instead of a muggy back yard.

All this time spent indoors can deprive a mother of enough fresh air and sunshine.  Combined with the other effects of seasonal affective disorder, the weather changes should never be underestimated as postpartum depression triggers.

Keeping a journal or mood tracker can help to identify if your postpartum depression symptoms are being triggered by the weather.  If they are, then there are several easy therapies and common practices you can do to help avoid it.

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Financial Stress

Money problems are high on the list of depression triggers.  For parents, adjusting to the financial strain of adding a baby to the budget can be difficult.  In addition to the cost of diapers and daycare, a mother has to battle with the financial stress of staying at home instead of working – or feeling guilty for working instead of being home with baby.

Changes in finances are just one of the many overwhelming adjustments that a new mother will need to make, and it can be a big trigger for postpartum depression. 

One of the best ways to avoid this is to prepare for the financial stress prior to giving birth.  Meet with a financial advisor and make a plan for the future.  To save some money, research which baby products are worth investing in, and which ones you can probably do without.  And most importantly, stick to a budget to keep financial stress under control.

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Changes in Treatment

To help fight all of these different postpartum depression triggers there are several different treatment options available.  The variety of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications available means that you should be able to find one that works well for you, even if you have to try out a few first.  

But beware when making changes to your treatment plan.  Sudden changes to any of your medications can trigger symptoms of postpartum depression again.  The same goes for stopping therapy sessions or another supplemental form of treatment.

Consider weaning yourself off slowly instead.  If you plan on switching to a different medication, slowly wean off of the first one and gradually begin the second one.  Obviously, speak to your doctor about any and all changes in your treatment plan.  And make sure to be open about the symptoms you are experiencing, so that you can find the treatment that works for you.


How to Avoid a Postpartum Depression Relapse

Postpartum depression isn’t a matter solely for mothers of newborn babies. 

It’s a lifelong struggle.  Even with treatment, a postpartum depression relapse can happen years after the sleep deprivation and breastfeeding days are over.  The best way to describe it is to imagine that a depression gene is lurking somewhere within you.  In some people, it is never triggered and lays dormant their entire life.  In others, it’s triggered during childhood or puberty, from a traumatic event, or by pregnancy and childbirth.

The problem is, once it’s triggered, it’s more likely to keep happening.

Treatment can manage the symptoms and controlling specific triggers can help to avoid relapses.  But it’s not something that is ever cured, and it will never go away because it was always there to begin with.  It can only be controlled.

[This article from Harvard Health goes into great detail about what causes depression and relapses.]

Here are some tips to help you avoid a postpartum depression relapse.
How to Avoid a Postpartum Depression Relapse
*This post contains affiliate and/or paid links which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love from companies that I trust. **Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. I am simply a mother who has been there and lived to tell the tale.

How to Avoid a Postpartum Depression Relapse

Identify your triggers

Find out what factors tend to make you feel more depressed.  Keeping a journal can help with this.  On days when you are feeling extra sad or anxious – write down things you’ve done recently, how you were feeling, conversations you had, medications you’ve been taking, what the weather was like, and so on.  Postpartum depression triggers can be different for everyone.

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Eliminate the problem

I know, it’s easier said than done.  If we could all get rid of pain and stress, then the world would be a better place.  Try keeping track of your sleep patterns and monthly mood fluctuations to help you notice patterns and triggers.  But once you’ve identified your specific trigger(s), your next goal will be to work at ways to fix that issue in your life.

If you’re uncertain of where to begin to fix the problems affecting your mental health, then speaking to a therapist can help.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine the root cause of our symptoms on our own.  Cognitive behavior therapy is a great exercise to help with this.  There are also licensed online psychiatrists available that you can have video chat sessions with.

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Take care of yourself

Mothers are infamous for not taking proper care of themselves.  Self care is not just a suggestion, it plays a huge role in avoiding a postpartum depression relapse.  Taking time to relieve stress, sleep well, eat properly, exercise and meditate will ensure that you stay one step ahead.  You can even create your own, dedicated self-care space to escape to when you start feeling low.

Try this 30 Day Self-Care Challenge from This Mama Needs Chocolate!

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Stick to your treatment plan

Of course you’re going to be feeling great after starting a round of anti-depressants or therapy, but that doesn’t mean it’s done it’s job and now you can stop.  Any changes to your treatment plan should always be discussed with your doctor, don’t assume that you no longer need treatment just because you’ve been free of postpartum depression symptoms for months.

Seeking treatment for postpartum depression is important.  Don’t assume that it will go away on it’s own.  Getting an official diagnosis of postpartum depression can be empowering.  Knowing that you suffer from a mental health condition can validate everything that you  are feeling and help you to accept that this is not your fault.

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Find someone to confide in

If you didn’t tell anyone you had postpartum depression the first time it happened, then it’s likely you will also choose to suffer silently in the event of a relapse.  Find someone that you can talk to about your feelings.  It can be someone close to you, a complete stranger or a support group, as long as they will encourage you to speak up and seek help.

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Be proactive

As much as you might try to eliminate stress and other triggers, life still happens and much of it is out of our control.  Try your best to plan ahead for situations that overwhelm you.  If being locked inside the house during the winter months makes you feel dreary, plan a vacation.  If you’re dreading the stress of juggling all the kids during summer vacation, hire someone to help you.  Being prepared for a postpartum depression relapse may even be enough to make you feel like you can handle it, should it hit.

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Don’t get discouraged

Sometimes, having a postpartum depression relapse is unavoidable.  It doesn’t mean that you have failed or that you will never get better.  While you may suffer more relapses in the future, each one will be easier to get through as long as you don’t let it get the best of you.  While postpartum depression is a long term battle, it doesn’t mean that you will need to fight it forever.  With the right treatment, you can live symptom free.

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Take away it’s power

As long as your postpartum depression is a secret – it controls you.  If you’re constantly afraid of a relapse happening, then it has power over you.  The only way to take away it’s power is by accepting and acknowledging it.  Tell everyone that you have postpartum depression and that there’s a chance you could suffer a relapse.  Then you won’t have it hanging over your head, and you won’t have to suffer alone.  Share your story, consider becoming an advocate for postpartum depression awareness, joining a maternal mental health movement or blogging about it.

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Remember that it’s not about them

If you didn’t know that a postpartum depression relapse was even possible, then chances are, neither did they.  “They” being your loved ones, your spouse, family or friends – even your own children.  Once you start feeling better, others will assume that you’re cured.  And if you suffer a relapse, you will be reluctant to tell them for fear of disappointing them.  But it’s not about them, it’s about you and your health, and that’s far more important.

So before you even suffer from a relapse, tell your loved ones that it’s possible this could happen.  Ask them to help you eliminate your triggers and watch for symptoms that your postpartum depression is returning.  Don’t feel guilty or selfish because this is your life.  It might be in a mother’s nature to put others before themselves, but when it comes to postpartum depression – you come first.

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Contrary to popular belief, postpartum depression does not go away on it’s own.  And a postpartum depression relapse does not only happen when you have another baby (although that can be a trigger).  Many mothers find themselves battling the symptoms of depression years after giving birth.  It’s discouraging and annoying and definitely unfair, but with the right self care routine and treatment plan, it doesn’t have to ruin your life.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do about it, is nothing.


How to Avoid a Postpartum Depression Relapse