After spending the better part of a year growing human beings, it’s common for many new moms to experience changes in mood or feelings in the days, weeks, and months after delivery.
While some of these emotional shifts are common, others may be signs of more serious issues. This is why healthcare providers generally classify postpartum mood disorders in three groups: the “baby blues,” postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis.
The “baby blues” can affect up to 80% of new mothers, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The baby blues can involve feelings of sadness or moodiness, and they tend to last a week or two before going away on their own. Although the baby blues can make a person feel depressed, a clinical diagnosis of postpartum depression requires a different set of criteria.
The March of Dimes defines postpartum depression as “strong feelings of sadness, anxiety (worry), and tiredness that last for a long time after giving birth,” which make caring for oneself and one’s baby difficult. Although the feelings involved may resemble the baby blues, postpartum depression lasts longer and is typically more intense and disruptive. Postpartum depression might involve trouble sleeping (beyond that expected for the parent of a newborn), feeling very moody or cranky, crying a lot, and other symptoms. Another sign of PPD is that symptoms last two weeks or longer, instead of passing on their own, as the baby blues generally do.
Postpartum depression is believed to affect at least 1 in 7 postpartum moms. While any new mom can develop postpartum depression, certain risk factors, like a history of depression and experiencing stressful life events, can make it more likely to occur. If you have a history of depression, it’s a good idea to let your healthcare provider know to keep an eye out.
According to the Mayo Clinic, postpartum psychosis is “a rare condition that typically develops within the first week after delivery,” and the symptoms are even more severe than postpartum depression. Postpartum psychosis may involve hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, which may ultimately result in attempts to harm oneself or one’s baby.
Postpartum psychosis is believed to affect about 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 postpartum mothers, and because the effects can put both moms and their babies at great risk, it’s considered a medical emergency. If you notice yourself experiencing feelings like those listed above, it’s critical to seek treatment.
If you are feeling like you are in urgent danger of hurting yourself or someone else, you should call 911 or the toll-free 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).
The bottom line
Postpartum mood disorders can make an already intense time even more challenging. If you have a history of depression or other risk factors present, it’s a good idea to let your healthcare provider know so he or she can help you better monitor your mental health during, and after, the postpartum period.
- Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Committee Opinion: Screening for Perinatal Depression.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Number 630, May 2015. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Screening-for-Perinatal-Depression.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Depression during pregnancy: you’re not alone.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, November 24 2016. Retrieved July 9 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/depression-during-pregnancy/art-20237875.
- Cox, J.L., Holden, J.M., and Sagovsky, R. 1987. Detection of postnatal depression: Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. British Journal of Psychiatry 150:782-786. https://www.fresno.ucsf.edu/pediatrics/downloads/edinburghscale.pdf.