Those first few weeks after birth are defined, for many, by wide-ranging emotions. Often one immediately after the other. Between the lack of sleep, constant feedings, and visits with family and friends, it can be a lot to balance, and sometimes it can be hard to tell if the mood swings or high emotions are normal or a sign of something more serious.
Bias in postpartum depressions diagnosis
We know that postpartum depression (PPD) is under-diagnosed in Black women and birthing people, one of the many ways that bias shows up in the healthcare system. There are many contributing factors, from the way the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (used to measure one’s risk of PDD) was developed to care access. And it means it’s even more important that you understand the signs of PPD and that you have a provider who you trust.
PPD vs. the baby blues
Postpartum depression is common in the first 2-3 months after birth, impacting 1 in 8 women. It’s different from the baby blues and includes feelings of hopelessness and extreme worry. Here are some ways to tell the difference.
- Moodiness or mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed, sad, or irritable
- Mild or fleeting feelings of anxiety
- Changes in appetite
- Challenges sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Feelings of prolonged or severe sadness
- Severe mood swings
- Irritability, anger, or excessive crying
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Major changes in appetite
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Losing interest in activities
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you’re having trouble figuring out if you’re suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD, or if you think you might be, seek out professional support. Not all providers are trained in postpartum depression, but all providers should be able to connect you to someone who is. Note that it is also possible for your partner to develop postpartum depression or anxiety.
What can I expect when I go to my provider?
If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, the first step is to call your provider.
Before you go to the appointment, try to learn a little bit about postpartum depression. Getting more familiar with the condition will help you discuss it with your provider. Write down any troubling thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations that you’ve been having lately along with triggers for mood changes or harmful thoughts.
Bring what you’ve written to your appointment so you won’t have to remember anything off the top of your head and so you don’t accidentally end up undermining the intensity of your feelings.
When you go in to see your provider, they will give you a diagnosis based on conversations with you as well as an evaluation tool or survey to measure depression. An example of a potential survey you may receive is called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale. You will be asked to answer a short series of 10 questions.
Even if you do not report signs of or concern about postpartum depression, your provider will administer this test at your comprehensive postpartum checkup as part of routine screening.
Bring a partner or other support person with you if you need some extra support. They can also help you remember everything your provider says.
There are so many ways to treat PPD.You must know that help is available. Your specific treatment plan may include therapy and/or medication. There are many options available, and your provider will help you find the best option for you. You deserve care and treatment.
You know yourself best, and you know when you’re not feeling like yourself, but help is available to help you feel like yourself again.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Depression.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. September 1, 2018. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617.
- “Postpartum depression facts.” NIMH. NIH Publication No. 13-8000 from National Institute of Mental Health, NIH, HHS, June 2016. Web.
- “Depression during and after Pregnancy.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 13, 2021. www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/maternal-depression/index.html.