There are many different symptoms of Postpartum Depression (also known as Postnatal Depression) and they can vary drastically from person to person. Symptoms can range from mild to severe in intensity and begin any time within the first six months of giving birth.
There is a very clear distinction between the symptoms of postpartum depression and the normal period known as the ‘baby blues’ which usually passes within two weeks. Most women feel tearful, upset and overwhelmed a few days after giving birth but Postpartum Depression is a serious illness which can persist for a long time and needs proper treatment.
You may be suffering from Postpartum Depression if you have any of the following:
- Very low mood – feeling down, depressed or tearful most of the time
- Not enjoying things which would usually make you happy – this can include not enjoying being a mother or being with your baby
- Anxiety, which can be overwhelming – it is common for new mothers to worry about their baby but in PD, anxiety can become extreme. Anxiety symptoms can appear in a physical and psychological way.
Psychological symptoms of Postpartum Depression include:
- stress and feeling overwhelmed
- Being unable to concentrate or focus on tasks
- Thinking there is something wrong with your baby
- Worrying that your baby may have stopped breathing
- Worrying that your baby is crying too much or isn’t putting on enough weight
- Thinking your baby doesn’t love you
- Worrying that if you tell someone how you feel, your baby will be taken away. This is unlikely to happen however as most doctors and support agencies want to work with you to help you continue to look after your child
- Feeling like you are going mad
- Feeling agitated and unable to relax
Physical symptoms of Postpartum Depression can include:
- A pounding or thumping heart
- Dry mouth
- Stomach upsets, nausea, and vomiting
- Disturbed sleep
Anxiety can have a domino effect of making you feel less able to cope, interact with the world or deal with the challenges of motherhood confidently. You may avoid other people or find it difficult to go out and worry that you might have panic symptoms in a crowded place.
Other symptoms of Postpartum Depression can encompass:
- Feeling unable to cope
- Difficulty sleeping – it is common to have disruptive sleep patterns after giving birth due to the constant care and attention a baby needs. It’s also normal to feel irritable and tired as a result of this. One indication that you may have PD is finding you can’t sleep even if you are extremely tired and have the opportunity to do so
- Exhaustion – lack of sleep and depression can sap you of energy, making it difficult for you to care for yourself and your baby
- Feeling irritable and angry – you may feel upset and annoyed at your partner, the baby, your other children or even yourself
- Feeling worthless and hopeless
- Extreme guilt – you might feel bad that you don’t want to be with your baby or that you aren’t a good mother. You may question whether you love your baby and find it difficult to cope if you feel you don’t. Some people feel guilty for feeling depressed and think it is their fault, but it isn’t
- Feelings of hostility towards your partner or baby
- Lack of interest in sex – Postpartum Depression can take away your desire for sex, plus you may be too tired or in pain from the birth to think about it
- Reduced appetite – you may forget to eat or have no interest in food when you are depressed
- Over-eating – some women ‘comfort eat’ and choose unhealthy foods as they can be easier to prepare when you are tired and exhausted. These can make anxiety and depression worse however
- Thoughts and feelings of wanting to harm yourself or your baby – these can be very frightening but having these thoughts doesn’t mean you will act on them. Most mothers will at some point feel frustrated and desperate and it’s common to think of hitting or shaking your baby. The chances of you acting on the feelings are slim, but if you feel like this you must tell someone. Bringing these thoughts out into the open and telling your doctor, friends and family about them can lessen the power these thoughts have over you and help you get the support that you need
- Psychotic thoughts – these are thoughts which are not based in reality, or you may see and hear things that other people do not. Again, you must ask for help if this happens.
Postpartum Depression can completely alter your thinking and change how you feel about yourself and your baby. Left untreated it can affect the level of care you are able to give yourself and your child and make it difficult to bond with your baby. It can be so consuming that you may end up blaming the baby or resenting them for the way you feel. There is so much help and support available however and depending on your individual circumstances, a combination of therapy, medication and self-help measures mean that most women are able to fully recover. Severe forms of Postpartum Depression may need to be treated in hospital or mother and baby unit, but again the prognosis is usually good. With PD, the sooner you seek treatment, the better it will work although it can be treated successfully even if you have had it a long time or are suffering severely.
You should see your doctor if:
- You develop the symptoms of Postpartum Depression listed above
- You are unable to care for yourself or your baby
- Your ‘baby blues’ do not go away after 2 weeks and your depression becomes more intense
- It is hard to perform tasks at work or at home
- You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby (seek urgent help from your doctor)
- You develop thoughts which are not based in reality, or you hear and see things that other people don’t (seek urgent help from your doctor)