Postpartum Depression: What Are the Symptoms?

The birth of a baby is both a happy and a stressful time for a woman. Months of anticipation are over, the infant has arrived and is healthy, and both sets of grandparents are beaming. But you’re not.

Postpartum, or postnatal, depression can happen to any woman, and it can occur after one birth but not another. Mood changes after birth are so common as to be almost expected, and most new mothers are taught to expect emotional “ups and downs” as a natural part of the birthing experience. There are three types of mood disturbances that can manifest in the days and weeks following birth:

  • The Baby Blues
  • Postpartum depression
  • Postpartum psychosis

Almost 80% of new mothers report symptoms of “Baby Blues.” This phenomenon generally occurs within three to seven days after delivery. There are feelings of emotional distress and often tearfulness which appears to be unrelated to real events. Commonly, arriving home with the new baby can prompt an outpouring of tears which the mother cannot explain.

The Baby Blues are associated with the massive drop in the hormone progesterone which naturally occurs after delivery. The body needs time to adjust to the new hormonal balance after months of working under the regime of the hormonal requirements of pregnancy. The Baby Blues typically passes within a week, is a normal part of the post-birth experience, and needs no treatment.

Postpartum depression, however, is a disorder which affects roughly one in 8 women and can occur after the first or subsequent pregnancies. Postpartum depression can be distinguished from Baby Blues due to the severity, range and, most importantly, the longevity of the accompanying symptoms. These include:

  • Changes in mood
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Sleep disturbances, including early morning waking,
    oversleeping and inability to sleep
  • Loss of appetite, overeating
  • Crying, or overwhelming sadness without knowing why
  • Irritability
  • Feeling unable to cope
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Anxiety, panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Negative or obsessive thoughts
  • Feelings of guilt over not being an adequate mother
  • Fear of being alone
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of the new infant
  • Memory disturbances
  • Lack of interest in sex

In coming articles, we will deal with the impact of postpartum depression on the mother/child relationship and the marital relationship, as well as available treatment options. Postpartum psychosis will also be addressed in a subsequent article.

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