July 13, 2024

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Most people have heard about the baby blues that occur a few days after giving birth.  Many women experience overwhelming feelings of emotion after birth due to hormonal changes.  In some new moms however these baby blues don’t go away.

In addition, some new moms develop a depression unrelated to the normal hormone changes, usually within the first three months after giving birth. This depression is called postpartum depression also known as postnatal depression.

Postpartum depression may cause sleeping difficulties, suicidal thoughts, mood swings, anxiety, and sadness. If left untreated, this illness can place both the mother and infant at risk.  A small number of women develop a more severe disorder called postpartum psychosis.  Postpartum depression can interfere with the mother’s ability to take care of herself and her newborn child.

Those who have had manic depression or schizophrenia are at the most risk of developing postnatal depression.  Treatment involves counseling and/or medication.  Statistics show that between 10 to 20 percent of new mothers experience this serious medical condition.

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

It is important for new mothers and their families to know what the signs and symptoms of postnatal depression are.

Women who suffer from postpartum depression can experience a wide range of symptoms including but not limited to:

• Tearfulness
• Sleep and eating disturbances
• Decreased sex drive
• Low energy
• Low self-esteem
• Guilt
• Increased anxiety or panic attacks
• Loss of concentration
• Agitation or irritability
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Negative feelings toward the baby
• Lack of pleasure or interest in most activities
• Difficulty concentrating
• Changes in appetite or eating habits
• Anger
• Lack of interest in the baby
• Thoughts of hurting the baby
• A strong sense of failure or inadequacy

In the beginning, postnatal depression can look like the normal baby blues. These conditions share many symptoms, including irritability, crying jags, and mood changes.

The big differences are that the baby blues go away in a few hours or days without treatment while depression lasts for far longer and can grow worse if left untreated and postpartum depression can start even months after giving birth.

If a new mom has any of the above symptoms for at least a two week period within the first months after giving birth, she should talk to her doctor or medical care provider about it to determine if she suffers from postpartum depression.

When to Seek Immediate Medical Help

If a new mother has any of the following symptoms she should seek medical help immediately:

• Thoughts of self-harm
• Intense concern and worry about the baby
• Trouble doing tasks at home or on the job
• Feelings of helplessness, doubt, or guilt that increase each week
• Frequent crying or tearfulness
• Feeling like life isn’t worth living
• Unexplained weight loss
• Noticeable changes in walk or speech

A Word about Postpartum Psychosis

Women with postpartum psychosis require immediate treatment. This health condition is much less common that postpartum depression but it has more severe symptoms.

New mothers who develop postpartum psychosis are likely to experience:

• Delusional thinking
• Hallucinations
• Poor sleep
• Extreme agitation or restlessness
• Bizarre behavior
• Extremely disorganized thinking

If you have any of these symptoms, please seek help immediately for your sake and the sake of your baby.

About Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can develop months after childbirth. Early treatment is important for you and your baby. A woman who suffers from this health condition may be afraid to be alone with her baby. She may also think about harming the baby.

The symptoms of postpartum depression can be frightening. If you suffer from this disorder, you may feel unable to take care of your child or yourself. Daily tasks may seem impossible. A woman with postpartum depression may not be able to concentrate and lose pleasure in everyday things.

If your doctor believes that you may suffer from this condition, he will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. There is no single test to diagnose this health problem; however, most doctors use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to diagnose this disorder which is a questionnaire that helps determine the symptoms of postpartum depression you have.

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

While no one knows what exactly causes postpartum depression.  There are some common risk factors associated with this disorder.  Not all women who have postnatal depression have these risk factors.

The main risk factors for postnatal depression include:

• History of Depression or Anxiety Disorders
• Prenatal depression during pregnancy
• Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy
• Low socioeconomic status
• Low social support
• Unrealistic ideas about motherhood
• Lack of emotional support
• Alcohol abuse
• A family history of depression
• A history of moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome
• A complicated pregnancy
• A stressful event
• Low self esteem

Women under 20 are more likely to develop postpartum depression. This disorder may also occur in women who have a poor relationship with their partners. Physical, emotional and lifestyle factors may all cause postnatal depression.  Some women may be genetically more vulnerable to this condition.

Women who smoke face a higher risk of developing postpartum depression than nonsmokers. The lack of social support can almost certainly cause this disorder. Several studies have shown a correlation between a woman’s race, social class and sexual orientation and postnatal depression.

While women who are in lower socioeconomic categories indicate a higher level of postpartum depression than those with more financial resources, postpartum can strike a woman of any socioeconomic class.  Some famous women who have had postpartum depression include:  Courtney Cox, Brooke Shields, Elle Macpherson, Lisa Renna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amanda Peet, Angelina Jolie and Marie Osmond.

postpartum depression aka postnatal depressionWhat Causes Postpartum Depression

If one or more of the risk factors above are present it increases the odds that a woman will develop postpartum depression.  While that is known, what is not known is exactly how or why it develops or why some women have it and others do not.

Some experts believe that this medical condition is caused by a lack of vitamins.  Others believe that the hormonal changes that occur in women during pregnancy are responsible for the development of the disease.

Postpartum Depression Treatment Options

Treatment for postnatal depression depends on the severity of symptoms.  The three treatments doctors most often prescribe are:  counseling such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, antidepressants, and hormone therapy.  These treatment methods can be used alone or together.  With proper treatment, postnatal depression can go away within a few months.  It is thought that a healthy diet and exercise can also help in recovery from depression.

Getting treatment is very important as it can reduce the length of suffering and severity of the depression.


If you have been diagnosed with this condition, support groups may be helpful.  Counseling gives you emotional support and helps with problem solving.


The main types of antidepressant medication prescribed for postpartum depression include monoamine oxidase inhibitors, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants.  These drugs affect the levels of serotonin in the brain. They are usually prescribed in severe cases of depression.

While there is debate over how many people are helped by anti-depressants, some experts report that as many as two-thirds of women who take antidepressants for postpartum depression get better.  Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking drugs to treat this disorder if breastfeeding.

It is thought that women with mild postpartum depression are most likely to benefit from counseling as opposed to antidepressant medication or a combination.

Risks of Untreated Postpartum Depression

It is estimated that about 12.5% or one in eight new moms experience depression that is severe enough to disrupt the mother-infant bond. This medical condition can affect the entire family.  Children of depressed mothers present an increased risk of developing behavioral problems.

Studies have shown that women diagnosed with this condition are less likely to breastfeed, play with, and read to their babies.  New mothers with postnatal depression focus more on the negative events of childcare.  Their babies may develop behavioral, emotional, and social problems.

Getting help is very important in overcoming this condition.   Part of being a good mother is knowing when to ask for help.  Try to sleep and eat well.  Set aside quality time for yourself to relax.  Include physical activity in your daily routine.  Talk with your partner and family about how you feel.  Most importantly, seek medical help for your postpartum depression.  Remember, no one expects you to be perfect.


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