Postpartum depression is defined as depression suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue.

Click the links below to read more about each type of mood disorder associated with pregnancy and postpartum. For a printable information sheet on Postpartum Depression, please click here.

About 80% of mothers will experience the Baby Blues about 3-4 days after giving birth. This can be due to changes in hormones, sleep deprivation, and fatigue. Symptoms include crying spells, irritability, difficulty concentrating, sadness, anxiousness, and frustration. These symptoms usually stop within 2 weeks. If the symptoms are more severe, last longer, or include thoughts of suicide then you may be experiencing Postpartum Depression.

Postpartum Depression, or PPD, is commonly thought of as just depression. However, many women also experience anxiety, obsessive-compulsiveness, or psychosis. As a group, these are called “Peripartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders.” You do not have these feelings because you did something wrong or because there is something wrong with you. These feelings can be due to hormonal changes, biological reasons, stress, or a history of mental health disorders.

Peripartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders are temporary and treatable.  If you feel you may be experiencing one of these disorders, it is important to get help quickly. With treatment, they usually last a few months to a year. Without treatment, they may last up to 3-4 years.

About 15% of women experience significant depression in the year after childbirth.  In fact, Postpartum Depression is the most common complication of childbirth.

Symptoms include:

  • Anger or irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Crying and sadness
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness
  • Feeling like life is not worth living
  • Loss of interest, pleasure, or joy in the things you used to enjoy
  • A general feeling that something is not right
  • Possible thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

 

About 10% of women experience significant anxiety after childbirth. Sometimes they experience anxiety alone, and sometimes they have depression as well.

Symptoms include:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Inability to sit still
  • Dizziness, hot flashes, nausea

Postpartum Anxiety may take on other forms as well, including panic attacks and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Panic attacks may come in waves. They may be frightening, but they cannot hurt you.

Symptoms for panic attacks include:

  • Shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t breath enough)
  • Chest pain
  • Claustrophobia
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is skipping beats or beating too fast)
  • Numbness and tingling

Symptoms for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder include:

  • Persistent, repetitive thoughts or mental images about the baby.  (Also called Obsessions or Intrusive Thoughts). These thoughts are upsetting to the mother.  They may include thoughts of the baby being hurt.
  • Compulsions- the mother does the same behavior repeatedly, usually in order to avoid “harm.”  This may include excessive cleaning, locking doors, counting things, organizing things.
  • A sense of horror about these thoughts
  • Fear of being left alone with the baby
  • Hypervigilance about protecting the baby

A person with Postpartum Psychosis has become detached from reality. It is rare, affecting about 1-2 women of every 1,000 births.  Postpartum Psychosis is considered a medical emergency, and you should seek help immediately by calling your doctor, a mental health crisis line or by going to the emergency room.

Symptoms include:

  • Delusions or strange belief
  • Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there)
  • Feeling irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to sleep or not needing to sleep
  • Feeling paranoid or suspicious
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty communicating at times

5% of the women with Postpartum Psychosis will kill themselves or their children.  This is because the woman is not thinking rationally and has distorted thoughts. Her delusions and beliefs may not make sense, but she thinks that they do. Her thoughts are meaningful and important to her, and may be religious in nature. A person with psychosis may be completely unaware of her condition. Immediate treatment is necessary.

Many women with Postpartum Psychosis do not have delusions that tell them to do violent things such as harming themselves or their children. However, there is always a risk because psychosis means that the woman is living in a different reality and may have irrational judgment. Thus, these women must be treated professionally and well monitored.

Postpartum Psychosis is temporary and treatable. Postpartum Psychosis is an emergency, though, so if you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor or a mental health hotline now to obtain help. With appropriate professional treatment, women can expect to live normal, healthy lives.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may be triggered by a traumatic or frightening birth, or if the mother or baby has a medical crisis after the birth. This might include an unplanned c-section, the baby going into NICU, prolapsed cord, or feelings of helplessness during the birth.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive memories of the traumatic experience
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Avoidance of things that remind you of the event, such as people, places or feelings
  • Persistent irritability, sleeplessness, hypervigilance or increased startle reflex
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Feeling disconnected or a sense of unreality

Postpartum PTSD is treatable with competent professional help. Click here for treatment options.