Postpartum Depression Types

How PPD is Diagnosed

Most people think that postpartum depression is characterized by sadness, anxiety and chronic fatigue. However, there are plenty of symptoms of postpartum depression which is why the medical community has divided the disorder into different types of categories.

Each type has its unique set of risk factors, signs and symptoms, treatment courses and progression. The types are divided by severity of symptoms from short-term and mild symptoms, to acute and intense symptoms, to chronic and severe symptoms.

Here are the different types of postpartum depression mood disorders:

  • Postpartum Blues (also referred to as “baby blues”)
  • Postpartum Anxiety
  • Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Postpartum Panic Disorder
  • Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum Blues

Postpartum blues is the most common form of postpartum mood disorder affecting an estimated 50-85% of women. Postpartum blues, also called baby blues is the mildest form of postpartum depression. It occurs within the first few weeks after delivering a baby and generally only lasts a few hours or days and goes away completely within about 2 weeks.

The key differentiator between postpartum blues and postpartum depression is that postpartum blues symptoms do not interfere with a woman’s ability to function in everyday life. The symptoms pass quickly and do not leave a lasting or damaging impact on the mother or the family. Because postpartum blues symptoms are so common, it is considered today to be normal and not serious for postpartum women.

Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety is another common mood disorder developed after giving birth. It is often underdiagnosed because it is believed that new mothers are naturally very anxious and so some symptoms of postpartum anxiety may seem “normal”. The main characteristic of postpartum anxiety is that the symptoms include far more anxious behavior as opposed to primarily depressed behavior.

Symptoms such as persistent fears and worries, high tension and stress levels as well as an inability to relax are the predominant signs of postpartum anxiety. Like postpartum depression in general, these symptoms may last only a few weeks, or they may persist for much longer depending on the woman in question. It is important to watch for these signs in order to differentiate symptoms between postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety or other types of postpartum mood disorders.

Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Postpartum Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is another type of postpartum depression altogether. It manifests itself in the form of an anxiety mood disorder and affects roughly 3-5% of postpartum women.

Symptoms of postpartum OCD include intrusive thoughts that repeat themselves persistently. These are usually thoughts that involve harming or even killing the baby. But these thoughts are rarely acted upon because mothers with postpartum OCD are aware of the thoughts and are horrified by them.

Other behavioral characteristics of postpartum OCD include developing compulsive habits such as repetitive cleaning and changing of the baby. Because mothers are embarrassed and ashamed by these thoughts and behaviors, postpartum OCD often goes unreported and therefore, undiagnosed and untreated.

Postpartum Panic Disorder

Postpartum panic disorder is a postpartum mood disorder that involves severe levels of anxiety. It occurs in up to 10% of postpartum women. Women with postpartum panic disorder suffer from extreme anxiousness and repeated panic attacks.

Symptoms of these postpartum panic attacks include shortness of breath, tightening of chest, heart palpitations and consistent and excessive worries and fears. These fears are most commonly the fear of dying, losing control or that one is going crazy.

Women with a history of severe anxiety and panic attacks are at a greater risk of developing postpartum panic disorder. Additionally, the medical condition of thyroid dysfunction can also create a greater risk for postpartum panic disorder.

Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a unique form of postpartum depression that may affect upwards of 9% of postpartum women. Like PTSD experienced among anyone else, the symptoms are the result of some real or perceived threat that has occurred to the woman. This threat or trauma likely occurred during childbirth or at some point postpartum.

These traumas could be things such as birth complications, the baby being sent to the NICU, the performing of an unplanned C-section or any injuries the woman suffered during delivery. Women who have suffered from other past traumas such as sexual assault or violence may be at a greater risk of developing postpartum PTSD.

Postpartum PTSD symptoms include reliving the trauma in flashbacks and memories, avoiding trauma triggers, anxiety and panic attacks, irritability and difficulty sleeping as well as feeling detached or numb to reality. Many women with postpartum PTSD also feel a strong sense of guilt, shame and self-blame in relation to their feelings about the particular trauma.

Postpartum Psychosis

Postpartum psychosis is the most serious form of any postpartum mood disorder though it is extremely rare. It is estimated that 1-2 women out of every 1,000 childbirths will develop postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis generally begins within the first few weeks after delivering the child.

Postpartum psychosis is characterized by symptoms such as hallucinations, delusional thoughts, extreme agitation, hyperactivity, confusion and poor judgment. The behaviors of a woman with postpartum psychosis are comparable to the manic behaviors of someone with bipolar disorder. In fact, women with past histories of bipolar disorder and other psychotic illnesses are at a greater risk of developing postpartum psychosis.

Because postpartum psychosis results in the woman being unaware of her actions and behaviors, this disorder presents a serious risk of suicide or infanticide. The risk of suicide or infanticide with postpartum psychosis is about 10% and so immediate treatment and even hospitalization are vital.