Postpartum depression is nothing to be ashamed about and can be effectively treated with therapy, medication or lifestyle changes. If you’re feeling empty, hopeless or sad after the birth of a baby, you don’t have to suffer in silence.
PPD doesn’t look the same in everyone. Here are some of the less common signs and symptoms of postpartum depression to look out for:
- Thoughts of escape. It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed after bringing home a new baby, especially if it’s your first time around, but if the overwhelm is too much to handle or it’s causing you to daydream about running away or escaping from the situation, you should reach out for help. Wanting to escape is not a normal part of having a baby, and you don’t have to feel this way.
- Inability to concentrate. Depression not only affects your mood, but also your cognition. You might find you have difficulty focusing, even on simple tasks, or become easily forgetful and have a hard time staying organized.
- Anger or rage. Mood swings are a well-known symptom of postpartum depression, but some moms also feel anger bubbling up under the surface and may often snap at those closest to them.
- Difficulty sleeping. Signs of depression in moms may be hard to spot at first since caring for a new baby disrupts sleeping patterns and can affect energy levels and mood. However, one sign of postpartum depression that is often overlooked is difficulty sleeping, even when feeling exhausted or when the baby is sleeping. If you find yourself tossing and turning much more than you used to or not able to sleep even when the baby sleeps, it could be a sign of PPD.
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt. One of the questions a medical professional might use to determine if you have PPD is whether or not you have blamed yourself unnecessarily in the past seven days. PPD can make you feel like the negative thoughts and feelings are all your fault, and difficulty bonding with your baby (another symptom of PPD) can exacerbate these feelings. You might also feel like you’re not cut out to be a mom and that you’ve made a mistake.
- Restlessness, jumpiness, or feeling “on edge.” Irritability is a common symptom of depression, but sometimes PPD can also make you feel especially restless and unable to relax or you may startle at sounds or movements that didn’t bother you before.
- Frequent headaches or stomach pains. PPD can also manifest as physical symptoms in your body, causing various unexplained aches and pains.
Postpartum depression doesn’t always involve thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation. In fact, some women may put off seeking help because they aren’t experiencing suicidal thoughts. (If you do experience those thoughts, however, you should seek immediate medical attention.)
Regardless of which symptoms manifest in you, untreated postpartum depression can affect your quality of life and inhibit your ability to bond with your baby, so if you notice these uncommon symptoms, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Let’s Talk about Postpartum Anxiety
Postpartum anxiety (PPA) is a separate disorder from postpartum depression, but the two often go hand-in-hand. PPA affects more than 1 in 6 women after giving birth and 1 in 5 first-time moms. For many moms with postpartum mood disorders, symptoms of anxiety appear first and may be some of the earliest signs that something is wrong.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling scared or panicky for no clear reason
- Feeling like your heart is racing
- Panic attacks
- Intense feelings of dread or worry that something bad will happen
- Difficulty sleeping, even when baby is sleeping
- Racings thoughts
PPD Can Begin Before Delivery
PPD typically affects mothers after the birth of a child, but prenatal depression can manifest during pregnancy as well, especially for first-time moms who don’t know what to expect. In fact, about 50% of moms with postpartum depression actually started having symptoms before delivery. If you are starting to have symptoms during pregnancy, your doctor can intervene before the baby arrives and prevent the condition from getting worse. Some antidepressants are considered safe to take during pregnancy or you may benefit from talk therapy or support groups.
When in Doubt, Reach Out
It can be very hard to distinguish what might be a normal part of having a baby, like hormone fluctuations that cause mood swings and a disrupted schedule, and what are symptoms of a mental illness. What may be signs of depression outside of the postpartum period, like feeling exceptionally tired or changes in your weight, are sometimes just part of life the first few weeks after bringing your baby home. But if you find you are experiencing mood swings, crying spells, or can’t sleep even when you’re exhausted for more than two weeks, it’s time to reach out.
If you find yourself wondering things like,“Is this a normal level of anxiety? Or is this something else?”, there is no harm in confiding in a trusted friend or reaching out to your doctor. It doesn’t necessarily mean you do have postpartum depression, but if you’re not sure your feelings are normal, talking with someone you trust is a good first step in determining if you could benefit from professional help.
Treatment for PPD is the same as it is for other forms of depression and often includes therapy and antidepressants, but treatment options vary based on individual needs. A mental health professional can help you develop coping mechanisms and find the best treatment for you to manage your symptoms and start feeling better.
Postpartum mood disorders are common, affecting as many as 1 in 5 moms. But PPD is very treatable and most women recover, especially when diagnosed and treated early. Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw and it doesn’t make you a bad mom. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can start feeling better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get short-term disability for postpartum depression?
In some cases, yes, but it very much depends on your circumstance and where you live. Postpartum depression is not part of every short-term disability policy type — some cover mental health more frequently and others rarely do. Contact your insurance provider to find out if postpartum depression qualifies for short-term disability.
Is it normal to cry after you have a baby?
Yes, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists note that most women experience some kind of mood swings or feelings of sadness known as “the baby blues” in the days following pregnancy, but these feelings are usually short-lived and resolve after 1-2 weeks. If you experience crying spells or feelings of sadness for longer than two weeks, you may be suffering from postpartum depression.
Is postpartum depression preventable?
It isn’t possible to entirely prevent postpartum depression, but there are ways to lower your risk. If you’ve experienced a depressive episode in the past, seeking out therapy before your baby is born can help you manage symptoms if they appear during pregnancy or after giving birth. Additionally, make sure you have a support system in place and develop an action plan that includes who you will go to if you notice symptoms, contact information for your doctor, and local support groups or networks. Prioritizing sleep is another way to take care of your mental health after having a baby, so come up with a plan with your partner or another support person to trade off caring for the baby at night so you can get adequate rest. And always remember, if you do experience PPD in any form, it’s not your fault and help is always available.