Common Signs of Postpartum Depression
Educating yourself about the different signs is vital if you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from postpartum depression (PPD). By understanding PPD, you can potentially identify patterns that can help physicians and mental health professionals diagnose the severity and type of PPD with which the new mother is suffering.
It’s important to remember that only physicians and mental health professionals can accurately diagnose postpartum depression and its many forms. That’s because many signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are broad and can mimic symptoms of other conditions.
While postnatal depression can affect new moms differently, there are some clear signs. If you suspect someone is suffering from postpartum depression, use the below guide to look for specific signs of postpartum depression.
Changes in Personality and Behaviors
The first thing to identify when looking for signs of postpartum depression is any noticeable and concerning change in personality, mood, and behavior. These may come and go, or they may be chronic and long-lasting.
If you notice several of the signs and patterns listed below in your loved one, this may indicate postpartum depression.
Emotional Signs of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (perinatal depression) can severely affect a woman’s emotional wellbeing.
Look for the following emotional signs of postpartum depression in your loved one:
- Excessive crying for long periods for seemingly no reason
- Drastic mood swings that go from calm to irritable frequently
- Easily angered or irritated
- Exhibiting intense anxiety, worry, and fear that hold her back from performing daily tasks
- Expressing feelings of shame, guilt, or hopelessness
- Describing feelings of extreme sadness and despair
Mental Signs of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a depressive disorder that affects the mother’s emotions and mental state. Here are some common mental signs of postpartum depression:
- Seeming unable to focus or concentrate
- Forgetting things easily
- Becoming easily distracted
- Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy
- Being indecisive and unable to make decisions about things
- Thinking she is to blame for however she is feeling and acting
Physical Signs of Postpartum Depression
Due to the emotional and mental stress of postpartum depression, women can also experience physical symptoms. Take notice if you hear of the mother complaining of any of the following physical symptoms:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Stomach pains
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of energy
- Change in appetite, whether it’s eating too much or too little
- Trouble sleeping
Behavioral Signs of Postpartum Depression
Perhaps some of the most telling signs of postpartum depression in a loved one are their sudden and dramatic changes in behavior. If you feel your loved one has become a different person, this could be a serious sign of postpartum depression.
Look for the following changes in behavior as signs of postpartum depression:
- Withdrawing from her partner, friends, and family members
- Not wanting to be alone with the baby
- Not interested in caring for or bonding with the baby
- Not wanting to participate in her usual activities, such as exercise and hobbies
- Displaying outbursts of anger or rage directed at others
- Avoiding tasks and responsibilities
Differentiating Between PPD and Baby Blues
The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that about 15% of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth to their new baby. If you notice signs of postpartum depression, be sure first to consider the level at which the woman may be experiencing these symptoms.
Postpartum baby blues has prevalent symptoms many mothers feel after giving birth and is often due to changing hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone). Symptoms like crying, tiredness, and restlessness are generally to be expected after experiencing childbirth.
When symptoms last longer than a couple of weeks and worsen or intensify to affect her quality of life, these may be signs of something more severe than the baby blues. Making this distinction between the two will help new parents seek appropriate medical intervention as soon as possible before the condition worsens.
Extreme Signs of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression has other more severe types involving extreme behaviors and emotions. The following are severe signs of postpartum depression that may indicate PPD types like postpartum panic disorder, postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, and postpartum psychosis.
- Obsessive and repetitive behaviors, such as cleaning and changing the baby’s clothes
- Suffering from panic attacks with physical symptoms like racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, and tightening chest
- Intrusive thoughts of harming the baby and being horrified by these thoughts
- Fearing that she is losing control over her thoughts or that she is going crazy
Your healthcare provider may request a blood test to rule out any other health conditions causing these symptoms, such as thyroid problems.
Signs of Postpartum Psychosis
- Hallucinations, delusions, and confusion
- Extreme paranoia and suspicions
- Expressing thoughts of self-harm
- Expressing thoughts of harm toward the baby
- Any suicidal thoughts or actions
- Any thoughts or actions about killing the baby
If you notice any of these extreme signs, inform a physician immediately, as only a doctor or mental health professional can diagnose.
Thoughts of suicide are highly problematic for any individual and shouldn’t be faced alone. In the meantime, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, a hotline available 24/7 to assist during times of emotional crisis.
What Causes Postpartum Depression?
According to the Office on Women’s Health, no specific cause of PPD exists.
Some common factors that present an increased risk of postpartum depression developing include:
- Family history of depression or mental illness
- Prior or current diagnosis of a depressive disorder (such as major depression)
- Prior or current diagnosis of a mental illness or mood disorder (e.g., Bipolar Disorder, OCD, PTSD, etc.)
- Traumatic or higher-risk pregnancies
- Stressful or traumatic life events (e.g., death, loss of employment, etc.)
- Giving birth to a child with special needs
- Difficult or traumatic birthing experiences
What to Do If You See Signs of PPD
If you’ve noticed several of the above signs of postpartum depression within the first year after giving birth, here are some tips for what to do next.
- Take note of signs
- Record dates and times
- Watch for patterns and compulsions
- Assess her awareness of her own behaviors
- Take a postpartum depression screening test or quiz
- Make an appointment with your physician
- Ask about postpartum depression treatment options involving psychiatry (e.g., antidepressants and therapy)
- Seek out support from support groups and online forums (e.g., Postpartum Support International)
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is a standard recommendation for women experiencing PPD. Therapy models like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help new mothers address their feelings in a safe, supportive environment.
Some mental health professionals may also prescribe antidepressant medication, and some antidepressants are also safe to take while actively breastfeeding.
With your help and support in watching for signs of postpartum depression, you can ensure your loved one gets the appropriate treatment she needs to recover from this terrible condition.