Postpartum depression (PPD) is a condition or illness that can look very different in different women.
Most women go through the baby blues in the first week after giving birth.
For a certain number of new mothers, those feelings of the blues, sadness, and mood disorders continue for longer.
Research shows postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 women in the first year after giving birth. Even so, postpartum depression often goes undetected and untreated.
In this article, we look at 9 of the most common symptoms of postpartum depression.
#1: Mood swings and depression
Mood changes are a normal and healthy part of life. They tend to be more enhanced after birth, as you experience big hormones changes and your body is adjusting to not being pregnant.
In the first few days after giving birth, these hormone changes bring on what’s known as the baby blues. You might feel sad, weepy, or irritable for a few days. This usually passes, your moods pick up and you can see the funny side to it all.
If you haven’t laughed or found anything funny for some time, check-in with your doctor as this is one of the signs of a mood disorder, such as PPD.
#2: No interest or pleasure in things
Life can’t go on exactly the same after your child is born. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and exhausted and not really up to socializing or picking up your hobby for a while.
It can be something you struggle with for some time, while you are dealing with sleep deprivation and physically recovery from pregnancy and birth.
You might have iron deficiency anemia, which also contributes to your fatigue and lack of energy for anything.
Although feeling this way is normal when you have a new baby, there’s also a point where your lack of interest in things is a sign you should seek help.
If you’re feeling as though every moment in each day is a huge weight on your shoulders, and you don’t look forward to things as you used to, seek some support from your healthcare provider.
#3: Blaming yourself when things go wrong
A sign you might be feeling out of your depth emotionally is if you feel worthless and guilty when something goes wrong – as it is bound to do, which is quite normal.
Some people have this personality trait, which is to feel responsible for everything. As a mother of a newborn, however, your life is likely to be a little chaotic and messy for a time.
You find your feet, baby has a development jump and then things go upside down again. The dog misses a few meals, the washing gets left on the line when it rains, and there’s never any milk …
It can be even harder, though, if your partner had to go back to work soon after the birth, and you don’t have much support from family or friends.
Things go wrong because they do. If you find yourself thinking, ‘That’s my fault’, when something goes wrong, or if you have feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness, then you need to speak to your healthcare professional for support to help you cope.
#4: Anxiety and panic attacks
Anxiety often shows up in the form of concerns about how you’ll cope as a new mama, worrying whether your baby is ok, or what you’ll do when your partner goes back to work.
These are normal things to worry about and, in most cases, if you come up with a plan and a solution, you feel ok and in control.
Having overwhelming anxiety that escalates into a panic attack, however, is a sign you might be suffering from PPD.
If your anxiety is so overwhelming you struggle to make simple decisions, you want to run away or withdraw from people, then it’s a sign you need to seek support.
#5: Everything is overwhelming
When you have a tiny person to care for, it can be really overwhelming to think of all the things you need to do to stay on top of life.
Caring for a newborn means little sleep, barely any time to wash your face, let alone stay on top of the washing and housework. If your life and your house are in total chaos, it’s normal.
If these thoughts consistently intrude in your daily life, though, it can be another of the clear symptoms of depression.
If what you ‘have to do’ causes you irritability, confusion, disorientation or restlessness, or stress about not being able to keep up, it might mean you’re experiencing a crisis related to PPD.
#6: Difficulty sleeping
When women become moms, especially during the first year, a change in sleeping habits is a very big feature.
If you have a newborn, it’s normal to feel fatigued and have low energy levels. This is why the advice ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ is important to follow. You need to get rest whenever you can.
If you aren’t able to fall asleep when you have the chance, or you’re suffering from insomnia, and this happens often, it’s possible you are experiencing another of the symptoms of PPD.
#7: Sadness and crying
As we mentioned above, the baby blues can bring teariness and even sadness, but this soon passes.
Hormone shifts play an important part in our feelings during the postpartum period. These changes, though, are normal and expected.
Nature compensates by giving us beautiful little babies that we instinctively nurture and protect, so that our feelings eventually balance out.
Ongoing sadness, exhaustion, anger, a sense of loss, and crying a lot are postpartum depression symptoms.
You might feel like you don’t deserve to be happy, or you don’t know why you feel so sad. Speak to your doctor to figure out whether this is PPD, and then work out a treatment plan.
#8: Not bonding with your baby
Mothers expect to meet their newborns and instantly feel overwhelmed with love for them. For some, it takes time for this connection to kick in and that’s perfectly fine.
What’s important is that you recognize when you feel you’re completely uninterested in your baby, or it seems you’re not bonding.
If you feel totally disconnected, this is a clear sign you should talk to your doctor and seek support. Postpartum depression can interfere with your natural instincts to care for your baby but treatment can help overcome this.
#9: Thoughts of self harm
You might think that thoughts of self-harm or suicide are unrelated to postpartum depression, and are more likely to apply to more severe disorders like postpartum psychosis or bipolar disorder.
Postpartum psychosis is when a mom loses touch with reality and starts having hallucinations and delusions. She might start seeing, hearing, and believing things that aren’t true.
When a mom thinks of harming herself or her baby, it doesn’t necessarily mean she will do it. It’s a clear warning, though, that many of the previous postpartum depression signs and symptoms might also apply.
Intrusive thoughts of harming yourself or your baby are extremely serious symptoms, and you need to seek support immediately.
You can contact your national suicide prevention lifeline or see your trusted health care providers. Reach out to family and friends for support, or join support groups.
It can be hard to admit to having these symptoms of depression, as a woman often feels she’s failing as a mother. Nothing could be further than the truth.
With the right support and treatment, postpartum depression can be managed.
What causes postpartum depression?
We don’t know the exact cause of postpartum depression but it’s thought to be triggered by physical and emotional factors.
The physical factors that contribute to postpartum depression include:
- Changes to hormone levels
- Thyroid hormone levels
- Lack of sleep
- Postnatal depletion and inadequate nutrition after birth
- Underlying existing or new medical conditions
- Drug and alcohol abuse.
The emotional triggers of postpartum depression include:
- Family history of depression and anxiety
- A traumatic birth experience
- Relationship difficulties, family violence, previous history of abuse
- Stressful life events, such as a loved one dying or your newborn being unwell
- Feeling isolated and lack of support
- Financial difficulties.
In the above list, some factors are more obviously linked to a risk of postpartum depression and some are less so. Many women develop postnatal depression even if they have no risk factors.
Most new mothers are screened for PPD using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale in the first six weeks after birth. If you have risk factors or experience any of the symptoms list above, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
Fathers with postpartum depression
A new father generally doesn’t have much information about birth and parenting other than what he learned from his own family upbringing.
This can have a huge impact on how a father understands what his partner is going through in cases of postpartum depression.
It can also trigger the condition in fathers as well.
Research shows new fathers are two and a half times more likely to have PPD if their partners experience it.
Many men lack the resources to cope with the changes an infant throws into their lives. They often push their feelings aside, which makes the problem worse.
The symptoms of postpartum depression in fathers are very similar to those in mothers, as is the treatment.
For more information, please check out Postnatal Depression In New Dads.
How to get help for postpartum depression?
If you suspect you have postpartum depression symptoms make sure you talk to your doctor as soon as possible, to discuss treatment.
If the condition is left untreated, you’re at risk of other mental health disorders, or it could lead to unhealthy choices, such as substance abuse.
Your doctor will be able to determine your personal postpartum depression factors, and individualize your care, paying attention to your specific needs. Your doctor will also discuss treatment options with you.
How is postpartum depression treated?
Typically, your doctor will refer you to a mental health professional, preferably one with experience in treating postnatal depression. You might choose to access a depression support group with a focus on new mothers, which can also help alleviate your isolation.
In the management of PPD, it’s important to enlist the support of your partner, family, and friends, as you find a balance. You might choose to hire a cleaner, a babysitter, or postpartum doula to ease the pressure and sense of overwhelm.
Today, medication for postnatal depression is an option women can consider with the support of their doctors.
Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be an important part of your treatment.
Sometimes, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) might be the treatment of choice for severe postpartum depression and for all cases of postpartum psychosis
Can you prevent postpartum depression?
It’s hard to tell which women will develop postpartum depression so it’s not easy to know how to prevent it.
You can reduce your chances of developing it by being prepared and informed. Find out whether your family has a history of depression.
Also, take a look at BellyBelly’s Prevent Postnatal Depression – 8 Tips To Help Prevent PND.
Get informed about having a positive birth to avoid birth trauma. Having a healthy baby is important but it’s not the only thing that matters.
How you feel about your birth experience has a huge impact on how you cope with the massive adjustments of life with a baby.
You can read more in Is a Healthy Baby All That Matters During Childbirth?.
Get your partner on board and prepared too. You will be a team once the baby is born, and dads can definitely help with combatting postpartum depression.
It’s also important to develop healthy habits, to keep your body primed for preventing postnatal depression.