How to recognize postpartum depression 

Having a new baby in your life can be wonderful in so many ways. It can also present you with a great deal of stress as this little bundle of joy causes your life to change in some not-so-little ways.  

With so many new changes in your life, just what’s normal? 

For many new parents, it’s totally normal to experience what are called the “baby blues” shortly after a baby is born, which can last for a few days or even a few weeks. This period can include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, and crying. It can also include feeling overwhelmed, having trouble sleeping, reduced concentration, appetite problems, and trouble sleeping. These feelings and symptoms are totally normal and will likely soon pass. But if they stick around, you might have postpartum depression (PPD). PPD actually shares a lot of similarities with the baby blues, but it lasts longer and the symptoms can be more intense.

When does postpartum depression occur?

Much like the baby blues, often PPD symptoms will develop within the first few weeks of giving birth, hence the “postpartum” in the name. However, it’s also very common for PPD to develop later too, anytime within the first year or so after you deliver.

Is postpartum depression different than regular depression?

It’s important to note that PPD is clinically different than regular depression. Although those with PPD may notice some of the same symptoms of regular depression— like anxiety, sadness, and social withdrawal— PPD is generally only diagnosed as such when these depressive symptoms come in conjunction with or are a result of the hormonal, physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes that accompany childbirth and parenthood. However, PPD is more common in those with a history of depression or mental illness. 

Why does postpartum depression develop?

There is no one single cause of PPD, and it could be due to a number of different factors. Your hormones fluctuate immensely before, during, and after pregnancy, so that could play a role. Following the massive drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone that occurs after childbirth, it’s very common to notice fatigue and sadness. And there are other major life changes to deal with on top of the changes to your body. Bringing a baby home presents a whole new set of challenges and responsibilities that can certainly cause stress. Contributing factors can include sleeping problems and sleep deprivation, nervousness about caring for a newborn, and stress about work.

How can you recognize postpartum depression?

Symptoms of PPD are more intense and longer lasting than the baby blues. These symptoms can include:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Appetite changes – loss of appetite or eating more than usual
  • Sleep troubles – inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

It’s also worth noting that some of these symptoms overlap with symptoms of other postpartum mood disorders, including postpartum anxiety disorders (which might cause excessive worry, trouble sleeping, panic attacks, hyperventilation, or repeatedly imagining scary things happening to one’s baby) or postpartum psychosis (which might cause confusion or disorientation, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, sleep disturbances, obsessive thoughts about one’s baby, or thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby).

If you’re experiencing these feelings and symptoms, when should you seek help? 

It can certainly take some time to adjust to all of these new changes in your life, and if you feel overwhelmed from time-to-time, that’s entirely normal. If you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is still just baby blues or may be PPD, you should talk to your provider if symptoms:

  • have been around for more than two weeks
  • are getting worse
  • are making it hard for you to care for your baby
  • are making it hard for you to complete everyday tasks
  • include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

If you believe that what you’re experiencing might be PPD or another postpartum mood disorder, if you’re having a hard time and it’s impacting your day-to-day life, or even if you’re just wondering if what you’re feeling and experiencing is normal, then you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. There are a number of different ways that healthcare providers can treat PPD, but no matter which one your own provider thinks is best, it’s much easier to get through these challenges when you have help.

And if at any point you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, you should seek immediate help from a loved one to take care of your baby and contact 911 or your local emergency assistance number. 

Dealing with the prospect of postpartum depression can feel scary, but you have nothing to be ashamed of. And you’re not alone; we’ve found that 32% of new moms develop PPD. Help is available, and you deserve to get the help you need. 

  • “Postpartum Depression.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved July 25 2017.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum depression.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, August 11 2015. Retrieved July 25 2017.
  • “Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders.” UNC School of Medicine. Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. Retrieved June 28 2019. 

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