Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms vary from person to person and can occur anytime during pregnancy or the first year after birth. Onset can be sudden or slow. Anyone can experience a perinatal mood disorder - regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, financial status, or number of children you've already had. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose. If you are concerned that you may be at risk, please reach out to your doctor, mental health provider, or 911.
For a handy, printable version of these symptoms, check out the "Plain Mama English" Handouts from Postpartum Progress:
The baby blues affect over 80% of new parents - nearly everyone! - and is NOT the same as postpartum depression. Due to the huge hormonal shifts immediately postpartum - as well as the lack of sleep and stress of such a big lifestyle change - most new parents feel weepy, overwhelmed, and emotional. The good news is that this should get better by 3 weeks postpartum; if you don't start feeling better, or your symptoms are severe, you may be experiencing a perinatal mood disorder that needs treatment. For the baby blues, just try your best to get rest, good nutrition, and support from friends, family, and other parents.
Postpartum depression affects 10-20% of new parents. Symptoms vary but include: depressed mood, crying, anxious feelings, difficulty sleeping (when you have the chance) or sleeping too much, changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, feeling angry or irritable, and feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty. You may have thoughts that your baby or family would be better off without you.
Portpartum anxiety affects 10-15% of new parents and often starts in the first month after birth (but can happen anytime). Symptoms vary but include: feelings of anxiety or worry, panic attacks, difficulty breathing, restlessness, physical symptoms of anxiety (sweating, nausea, racing heart, dizziness, chest tightness), insomnia, self-doubting thoughts, or excessive worry about yourself or baby that bothers you and you can't stop. Some people also experience fear of leaving the home or of being left alone with baby.
Bipolar symptoms vary, but usually present in cycles of depression (see above) and mania, where you feel high energy, are easily distracted or irritable, don't seem to need sleep, and feel your mind racing. Bipolar is most common in those who had it prior to pregnancy or parenthood - and these individuals are at risk of relapse after going off medication.
OCD often begins in the first month after birth. People with prenatal or postpartum OCD experience persistent, recurrent, and intrusive thoughts or images that are disturbing, such as thoughts of something terrible happening to self or baby. It is important to know that these are just thoughts - a symptom of an illness - and the fact that they feel scary shows that you know what is right and wrong and won't act on them! You may also feel anxious and be hypervigilant (i.e., not being able to sleep due to worry, constantly checking on baby) or will perhaps avoid situations that trigger scary thoughts.
Postpartum PTSD is usually a result of a traumatic birth - which can be any kind of birth where you felt violated, out of control, or at risk of harm. What is most important is how YOU perceive it, even if you are told that your birth was "normal." With PTSD, you may feel that you are re-living experiences over and over in your mind and find it hard to stop thinking about it. Nightmares and flashbacks are also common. You may also feel more anxious and on-edge, as well as detached or isolated from others.
Psychosis is very rare (1-2 per 1000 births) but extremely serious, and requires immediate medical attention for the safety of the parent and child. These parents have have disturbing thoughts about hurting themselves or baby, or hear or see things that aren't really there. They often "lose touch with reality" and feel the urge to act on these thoughts or voices, and are not distressed by them, as a parent with OCD would be. You may also see them experiencing manic symptoms or insomnia.