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Hayden Panettiere's postpartum depression: It can happen any time in first year

As actress Hayden Panettiere receives treatment for postpartum depression, she's bringing new attention to a condition that affects many women during the first year after giving birth.
/ Source: TODAY

With her announcement that she entered a treatment center as she struggles with postpartum depression, Hayden Panettiere has brought new attention to the condition that affects many women during what is supposed to be a joyous time in their lives.

The 26-year-old “Nashville” actress welcomed her first child, her daughter, Kaya, in December. Last month, she spoke about the pain of postpartum depression in a TV interview, and her representative said on Tuesday that she had chosen to enter a treatment facility.

Postpartum depression involves intense feelings and is marked by crying, anxiety, sadness, a depressed mood and feelings of helpless, hopelessness and guilt. While it may seem like the condition would affect women shortly after having a baby, it can strike within the first 12 months.

"Intuitively, we think it makes the most sense that it would happen in the first few weeks to months after childbirth," NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar said on TODAY Wednesday. "It's the time of the most stress. Your life is literally turned upside down. But it can happen any time really in the first year."

Not just baby blues

Postpartum depression, which affects up to one in seven women, is different from the so-called baby blues.

"The biggest distinction between the baby blues and what's called postpartum depression really has to do with the duration and also the intensity and severity of your symptoms," Azar said.

It's normal, she said, for women to have a crash of hormones around two days after having a baby and to feel down or blue. "You're feeling possibly irritable or anxious or sad," Azar said. "You have a new baby. You're not quite sure what to do. That should generally last about two weeks."

The feelings of the baby blues are less intense than symptoms of postpartum depression.

"If it lasts for longer than two weeks and/or the symptoms become more severe, you're having difficulty with sleeping, feeling helpless, feeling hopeless, feelings of guilt," Azar said, it's a good time to call your doctor.

Signs of postpartum depression:

  • worry
  • anger
  • loss of interest in activities
  • changes in appetite.

Sleep deprivation can exacerbate postpartum depression, Azar said.

"When it gets to the point where it interferes with the maternal bonding with the child, where it interferes with the mother's ability to care for herself, is when she should probably seek help,” Dr. Clifford Feldman of Huntington Memorial Hospital, in Pasadena, California, told TODAY.

Panettiere spoke about postpartum depression last month, saying people don’t always understand the condition.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding," she said on “Live! With Kelly and Michael.” "There's a lot of people out there that think that it's not real, that it's not true, that it's something that's made up in their minds, that 'Oh, it's hormones.' They brush it off. It's something that's completely uncontrollable. It's really painful and it's really scary and women need a lot of support."

Other celebrities, including Brooke Shields and Gwyneth Paltrow have discussed their experiences with postpartum depression.

"I was part of a group, an entire percentage of women that — that experience frightful thoughts and fearful images and have no connections with their children,” Shields told TODAY in 2005.

Risk factors include:

  • History of depression
  • Family history of depression

There is treatment for postpartum depression, so contact your doctor to identify possible symptoms, Azar said.

Also important to note: Men can suffer as well, regardless of whether the mother of the child has postpartum depression or not.

The cause of postpartum depression isnot known, but hormones and physical changes after pregnancy may play a role. There are clinical trials under way on the condition.