Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Postpartum depression affects each person differently and to a different degree.

Some women experience rare but extreme cases of the condition known as postpartum psychosis. On the other hand, some women experience a milder and more short-term type called “baby blues.”

Although this condition affects different people differently, there are unmistakable symptoms that reveal when a woman is facing postpartum depression.

Symptoms of Postpartum “Baby Blues” (Not Postpartum Depression)

During the second and third weeks following pregnancy, it is common for new mothers to experience postpartum “baby blues.”

Symptoms of “baby blues” include:

  • Anxiety
  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Tiredness

These are common feelings and do not necessarily indicate a more severe type of postpartum depression. Though they can be challenging, these feelings typically go away within a few weeks and most likely do not require medical intervention.

“Baby blues” are often the result of hormonal changes right after birth. Right after the baby is born, new moms will experience a sudden dip in hormone levels (specifically estrogen and progesterone) which can cause depression symptoms.

In some cases, these milder “baby blues” symptoms do not fade and instead intensify or worsen within three to four weeks following pregnancy. Increased or ongoing symptoms could be an indication of more serious postpartum depression. The Office on Women’s Health recommends speaking to your doctor if your “baby blues” last more than a couple of weeks.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms Overview

Postpartum depression symptoms are similar to any other type of depression. These symptoms usually appear during the first few weeks after birth but can occur anytime during the first year.

Some additional symptoms include specific feelings toward or about the baby that are characteristic of postpartum depression.

Emotional Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

During postpartum depression—also known as perinatal depression—women most commonly experience emotional symptoms that affect how they feel.

These emotional symptoms include:

  • Excessive and uncontrollable crying
  • Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Feeling numb or empty
  • Extremes in mood swings
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Feeling anger and rage
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Feeling guilt and shame

Mental Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

In addition to emotional symptoms, there are also shifts in her thoughts and mentality during postpartum depression.

Here are some of the mental symptoms of postpartum depression:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Trouble remembering details
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Doubting her ability to care for her baby
  • Thinking things are too overwhelming to handle
  • Thinking she has failed or is inadequate; feelings of worthlessness

Physical Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression also manifests itself physically and creates symptoms that affect the body.

Physical symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Changes in appetite such as eating too much or too little
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Oversleeping
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pains

Behavioral Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Women suffering from postpartum depression also exhibit behavioral changes. It may seem like she is behaving like a different person.

Here are common behavioral symptoms of postpartum depression:

  • Acting distant with her partner
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and social activities
  • Inability to form a bond with the new baby
  • Unwilling to care for the baby out of fear of harming them
  • Not being able to enjoy time with friends and family members
  • Not wanting to be alone with the baby
  • Exhibiting angry behavior toward others

Extreme Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

In some cases, postpartum depression symptoms intensify and worsen beyond what is listed above. Other more severe types of postpartum depression create an additional set of symptoms.

These other types of postpartum depression include:

Symptoms of Obsession, Panic, and Trauma

Women with severe cases of postpartum depression may experience a combination of obsessive, anxious, and traumatic behaviors.

These extreme symptoms may include:

  • Severe and debilitating anxiety and agitation
  • Recurring panic attacks (i.e., shortness of breath, chest tightening, and heart palpitations)
  • Fears of dying, losing control, or going crazy
  • Displaying repetitive obsessions such as bathing the baby and changing their clothes
  • Intrusive thoughts of harming or killing the baby
  • Feeling horrified and embarrassed by these thoughts

The woman is aware of her thoughts and behaviors with all types of postpartum depression except postpartum psychosis. Therefore, her acting upon harming or killing the baby is very unlikely.

These specific symptoms can help health professionals diagnose which type of postpartum depression the mother is experiencing. Awareness of the details and patterns of postpartum depression symptoms will help new parents seek appropriate treatment for the mother.

Dangerous Symptoms of Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is the most extreme type of PPD, and while it is rare, it is very serious. Postpartum psychosis forms shortly after giving birth—within two weeks or in as little as 48 hours.

Postpartum psychosis is different than others types of PPD because the woman isn’t aware that her actions and behaviors are psychotic.

Postpartum psychosis symptoms include:

  • Experiencing hallucinations of things or sounds that aren’t there
  • Becoming delusional with paranoid, suspicious, or irrational beliefs
  • Exhibiting extremely agitated or even violent behavior
  • Becoming easily confused or disoriented
  • Obsessing over the baby
  • Being extraordinarily fearful or anxious
  • Displaying bizarre behaviors that are uncharacteristic of the individual
  • Extreme and rapid mood swings
  • Refusing to eat or sleep
  • Taking self-harming actions
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal attempts
  • Thoughts of harming or killing her baby

Because postpartum psychosis presents a major risk of suicide or infanticide, hospitalization is usually required to keep the mother and baby safe.

If you or a loved one exhibits any of these symptoms, inform your physician immediately. You can also take a postpartum depression screening test to help identify specific postpartum depression symptoms you may be facing.

You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988. This hotline is available 24/7 to help you through your feelings of hopelessness.

Risk Factors of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression affects women from all walks of life, and even women at a higher risk of developing PPD do not necessarily end up with it. However, certain conditions may increase the risk of postpartum depression developing after childbirth.

Some potential PPD risk factors include:

  • Family history of depression
  • Previous experience with depression or mental illness
  • Prior diagnosis of a mood disorder (e.g., Bipolar Disorder)
  • Stressful life events, such as a death in the family or job loss
  • Traumatic pregnancies or birth experiences
  • Cooccurring health conditions
  • Prior diagnosis of PPD with previous children

Treatment to Alleviate Postpartum Depression Symptoms

In many instances, some of the more severe cases of PPD require medical intervention. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 15% of births result in postpartum depression, so various treatment options are available.

Before deciding on a treatment, your healthcare provider may order a blood test to eliminate any thyroid problems as the cause of your symptoms.

Additional treatment options can include:

  • Psychiatry, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other forms of “talk therapy”
  • Antidepressant medication, many of which are safe to take while breastfeeding
  • Support groups (like Postpartum Support International)
  • Adjustments to diet or exercise routine
  • Meditation or other mindfulness practices

More intensive treatment may be required in extreme cases of PPD. For instance, sometimes Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is recommended for postpartum psychosis. Team
Reviewed by:Kimberly Langdon M.D.

Medical Editor

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kimberly Langdon is a Doctor of Medicine and graduated from The Ohio State University in 1991. She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Ohio State University Hospitals, Department of OB/GYN. Board-Certified in 1997, she is now retired from clinical practice after a long and successful career. Currently, she is the Founder and Chief Medical Officer of a Medical Device Company that is introducing patented products to treat vaginal microbial infections without the need for drugs. She is an expert in Vaginal Infections, Menstrual disorders, Menopause, and Contraception.

Written by:

Jenna Carberg was diagnosed with postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter in 2016. It was a healthy birth but in the following days, Jenna's mood changed quickly. Doctors suggested that it might be the "baby blues", but her husband Chris suggested she seek a second opinion. Jenna was diagnosed with postpartum depression and began a journey that lasted 9 long months with significant ups and downs. Jenna's mental health care and her experiences became a passion for her to share with the world. She and her husband Chris founded as a support website designed to help women suffering in silence and their loved ones.

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