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:
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
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Muscle aches and pains
- 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:
- Postpartum anxiety
- Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Postpartum panic disorder
- Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Postpartum psychosis
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.