Recognizing the Signs of Postpartum Depression

Sometimes It's Easier To Ask For Help...

For many families, the fear of developing a postpartum mood disorder is real. You may be shocked to hear that 85% of people experience some kind of postpartum mood disorder and that about 400,000 babies are born to women who are already depressed. These numbers are shocking simply because, as a society, we don’t talk enough about how common it is to go through these mood changes after giving birth, but instead expect women to bounce back, physically, mentally, and emotionally within days or weeks.

Most people want to do everything they can to ensure they don’t get it by setting up systems and the support of a postpartum doula and infant care specialist. A trained and experienced third-party person is often more easily able to pick up on the signs of postpartum mood disorders than friends and family members or even the individual themselves. What many people do not realize is that there is more to postpartum mood disorders than just postpartum depression. Postpartum mood disorders include baby blues, postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder.

Postpartum Blues or Baby Blues

This is most common type of postpartum mood disorder, affecting about 70-80% of new mothers. The symptoms usually occur within the first few days and disappear or lessen within 2 weeks.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Mood swings accompanied by irritability and/or anxiousness
  • Feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Decreased ability to concentrate

Risk factors:

  • Personal or family history of depression or antepartum depression
  • Feelings of stress surrounding childcare
  • History of PMS

Baby blues are temporary and the symptoms lessen or disappear  on their own within just a couple of weeks. Baby blues do not interfere with an individual’s ability to function normally or care for her baby.

Postpartum Depression

Affecting about 10-15% of new mothers, postpartum depression usually develops within the first 4 months after delivery but can occur up to a year later.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, shame, guilt, worthlessness, anger, rage, irritability, and being overwhelmed
  • Trouble sleeping and eating
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • No interest in baby
  • Thoughts of hurting self or baby

Risk factors:

  • Personal or family history of past depression
  • History of abuse
  • Recent stress
  • Complications or trauma getting pregnant, during pregnancy, and/or with the birth
  • Lack of support

Unlike baby blues, postpartum depression can interfere with the mother’s ability to care for herself or her infant. It is important to contact a medical care provider if you suspect you or a loved one has postpartum depression. If you have a postpartum doula caring for you or your family, she is trained to look for the signs and symptoms and encourage you to speak with your care provider to either rule it out or diagnose it.

If an individual is experiencing hyperactivity, rapid mood swings, bizarre behavior, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations and/or delusions, and thoughts of hurting themselves or the baby, these can be signs of a more serious condition called postpartum psychosis. If postpartum psychosis is suspected, it is very important not to leave the individual alone by themselves or with the baby and to contact their medical care provider immediately. Although rare and only present for about 1 or 2 in every 1000 pregnancies, the symptoms are severe and sudden and usually occur within about 2-3 weeks after delivery.

There is no shame in seeking medical help. The sooner medical care is provided, the sooner recovery can occur.