How to Recognize Signs of Postpartum Depression and Get Help

Written by: Megan Stander


Time to Read: 9 min

Amidst the joy and wonder of motherhood, there exists a silent struggle that affects countless new moms—postpartum depression (PPD).


Around 1 in 7 women can develop postpartum depression (PPD). While the stats can vary (because a lot of cases go undiagnosed and unreported due to the stigma associated with acknowledging depression after childbirth), the problem is very real.


It can start with baby blues which usually go away in a couple weeks. However, when left unchecked, the overwhelming postpartum emotions can quickly veer into depression and impede a woman's ability to recover and function normally.


In this blog post, we'll delve into the intricacies of PPD, explore its definition, causes, symptoms, and take a look at the avenues for support and recovery.


So, let's get to the big question.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a form of clinical depression that occurs after childbirth. It is a serious mental health condition that goes beyond the typical mood fluctuations or "baby blues", and can affect both mothers and fathers, although it is more commonly associated with mothers.


The onset of postpartum depression is typically within the first few weeks to months after giving birth, but it can develop at any point during the first year postpartum. The condition is characterized by a range of emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms that significantly impact a person's ability to function and enjoy daily life.


Another term to keep in mind is peripartum depression which shares the same PPD characteristics but starts during pregnancy and continues after childbirth.

Postpartum Psychosis is a severe and uncommon condition typically emerging within the initial week after childbirth, characterized by symptoms like:

  • Rapid mood swings

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Hyperactivity

  • Paranoia

  • Hallucination and delusions

  • Attempts to harm yourself or your baby

  • Obsessive thoughts concerning your baby

  • Inability to communicate effectively

Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression

These risk factors are just indicators to watch out for and do not mean that you will have postpartum depression. Understanding what causes PPD is crucial for addressing and managing the condition.


Here are a few key factors that can put you at risk for Postpartum Depression:


A history of depression, anxiety, sexual abuse, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), can play a big role in elevating your risk for developing PPD. Along with this your personal attitude towards pregnancy (say, you did not want the pregnancy, or had a rough and high-risk pregnancy) or the presence of persistent negative feelings can severely impact your mind after the baby is born.


Complications that arise during pregnancy and childbirth such as an emergency c-section, long labor and difficult delivery, pre-term or low birth weight baby, low hemoglobin, hormonal imbalance, high blood pressure, obesity, asthma, infections, are some of the many factors that can easily prime you for PPD. 


The absence of social support is a major contributor to the onset of postpartum depression. Lack of care and support group or help with baby and household chores can overwhelm any new mother. Besides these, verbal or physical violence, spousal abuse or the absence of a partner to get her through this phase can also contribute to PPD. 


Your habits and lifestyle can determine if you could be at risk for PPD. Smoking, sleep deprivation or irregular sleep patterns, poor diet, history of alcohol or drug abuse and lack of physical activity can increase depressive symptoms and hamper your mental well-being.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression -understanding PPD and get help- Raising Mama - Maternal Mental Health Support

Symptoms for postpartum depression manifest differently in different individuals. These can include persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability, and a sense of detachment from the newborn.


Identifying these signs early on is vital for prompt intervention and treatment.

  • Persistent Sadness or Low Mood:

    A new mother going through PPD will often encounter prolonged periods of sadness or a persistent low mood that goes beyond the typical two-week period of 'baby blues.'

  • Loss of Interest or Pleasure:

    PPD contributes to feelings of detachment and one will notice a remarkable loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable to a new mom. This may include hobbies, socializing, or even caring for the newborn. 

  • Changes in Sleep Patterns:

    Sleep deprivation is common and expected when bringing up a newborn. However, the problem should be taken seriously when a new mother has trouble sleeping even when she has the time. Sleep disturbances can exacerbate other symptoms and contribute to the overall sense of fatigue and exhaustion as well as impede the functioning of cognitive faculties.


  • Change in Appetite:

    PPD can trigger changes in appetite and can cause weight gain or loss. Some individuals may experience a loss of appetite, while others may turn to food as a comforting coping mechanism.

  • Fatigue and Loss of Energy:

    Caring for a newborn is a challenging task in itself but when combined with the emotional distress and physical exhaustion that a body goes through during postpartum, it can easily contribute to overwhelming fatigue and a persistent lack of energy.


  • Intense Irritability or Agitation:

    Mothers with postpartum depression may showcase heightened irritability, anxiety, agitation and frustration over minor issues that they would have overlooked in their life before pregnancy and childbirth. 

  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt:

    PPD brings with itself a distorted self-perception that often leads new mothers to experience feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, or guilt. With such a big life change, moms often feel a loss of identity and feel as if they are failing in their role as a parent.

  • Intrusive Thoughts:

    Some mothers with PPD may experience intrusive and distressing thoughts related to harm coming to themselves or their newborn. Repetitive thoughts about how you are not a good mom and second guessing every baby related decision can really curb a mother's confidence in her abilities. It's crucial to recognize these thoughts and seek support and counseling quickly.

  • Withdrawal from Family and Friends:

    Inability to connect with others and deliberate withdrawal from social interactions is a very common PPD symptom. Mothers may feel a sense of shame about their physical, emotional or psychological state and isolating themselves becomes a coping mechanism (which is not helpful for a healthy postpartum recovery).

  • Physical Symptoms:

    PPD symptoms reflect the interconnectedness of mental and physical well-being. A depressed mind and body often exhibit headaches, stomachaches, digestive issues, and muscle pains.

  • Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions:

    PPD can impact cognitive function, making it challenging to concentrate, take decisions, or complete tasks. This can hinder a mother's ability to navigate the demands of daily life. 


  • Impact on Mother-Infant Bonding

    A hallmark symptom of PPD is a struggle to bond with the newborn. Mothers may feel emotionally distant and overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for an infant. This can have adverse long-term consequences for the child's emotional development. Acknowledging and addressing these challenges is crucial in fostering a healthy mother-infant relationship.

Managing Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression Treatment -understanding PPD and get help- Raising Mama - Maternal Mental Health Support

Managing postpartum depression requires a multifaceted approach.

  • Therapeutic Counseling:

    Mental health professionals, including therapists and counselors, play a pivotal role in providing support, guidance, and therapeutic interventions to those suffering from postpartum depression. Within the therapeutic setting, you have the opportunity to discuss your concerns, explore improved coping strategies, address challenges, establish achievable goals, and develop positive responses to various situations.

    Family or relationship therapy may also prove beneficial. Your therapist could employ cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy as different approaches to gain a better understanding of your condition.


  • Antidepressant Medication:

    Medication may also be prescribed in severe cases, highlighting the importance of a comprehensive approach to treatment. Your healthcare provider might suggest antidepressants as part of your treatment plan. If you are breastfeeding, it's important to note that any medication you take will be transmitted to your breast milk.

    Collaborate closely with your healthcare provider to assess the potential advantages and disadvantages of specific antidepressant options.

  • Supplementary Medications:

    Additional medications may be incorporated into your treatment regimen especially if your postpartum depression is characterized by severe anxiety or insomnia.

  • The Role of Support Systems

    A robust support system is a cornerstone in the journey to overcoming PPD. Spouse, partner, family, and friends can provide emotional support, assist with childcare and household responsibilities, as well as create a nurturing environment for the mother and child. 

    Building an open and non-judgmental network is crucial for mothers to feel understood and less isolated in their struggle.


  • Self-Care and Coping Strategies:

    Empowering mothers with effective coping strategies is fundamental in managing PPD. Encouraging self-care practices, such as adequate rest, proper nutrition, and engaging in activities that bring joy, can contribute significantly to emotional well-being. Additionally, mindfulness techniques and regular exercise have shown promise in alleviating depressive symptoms.


  • The Importance of Open Dialogue:

    Reducing the stigma associated with postpartum depression necessitates fostering open conversations. Encouraging mothers to share their experiences and challenges helps create a supportive community that understands the nuances of PPD.

    This open dialogue not only reduces feelings of isolation but also contributes to a broader societal understanding of maternal mental health.


  • Routine Screenings during Pregnancy

    Routine screenings create an opportunity for healthcare providers to educate expectant mothers about the prevalence, signs, and symptoms of postpartum depression.

    Through routine screenings, healthcare professionals can conduct psychosocial assessments to gauge the expectant mother's emotional well-being. Questions related to stressors, coping mechanisms, and emotional support systems provide valuable insights into the individual's mental health.

Postpartum depression is a formidable challenge, but it is not insurmountable. By fostering awareness, encouraging open dialogue, and providing robust support systems, we can create a world where mothers feel empowered to seek help without fear or judgment.


Together, we can illuminate the path toward understanding, compassion, and recovery for those affected by postpartum depression.

What is the difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues?

The baby blues and postpartum depression are two distinct conditions. The baby blues are a common and temporary condition that occurs in the first few weeks after childbirth. Symptoms may include mood swings, irritability, sadness, and crying spells. These symptoms are generally mild and resolve on their own without treatment. On the other hand, postpartum depression is a more severe and persistent form of depression that can occur anytime within the first year after childbirth. It is characterized by intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities. Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression often requires treatment to alleviate symptoms.

How long after giving birth can postpartum depression occur?

Postpartum depression can occur anytime within the first year after giving birth. While it most commonly develops within the first few weeks or months, it can also manifest later in the postpartum period. It's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and seek help if you experience any of them, regardless of the time frame.

Can postpartum depression affect fathers or partners?

Yes, postpartum depression can affect fathers or partners as well. While it is more commonly associated with mothers, fathers and partners can also experience postpartum depression. The risk factors for postpartum depression in fathers/partners are similar to those in mothers, including hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and increased stress. It's important to recognize that postpartum depression can affect anyone involved in the caregiving role and provide support and resources to fathers and partners who may be experiencing this condition.

Are there any preventive measures or strategies to reduce the risk of postpartum depression?

While it's not always possible to prevent postpartum depression, there are certain measures that can help reduce the risk or mitigate its impact. These include seeking adequate prenatal care, maintaining a strong support system, engaging in regular exercise, practicing stress-reduction techniques, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet. Additionally, it's important to communicate openly with healthcare providers and discuss any concerns or symptoms experienced during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

What are the available treatment options for managing postpartum depression?

The treatment of postpartum depression typically involves a combination of therapy, support, and in some cases, medication. Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT), can be highly effective in helping individuals manage their symptoms and develop coping strategies. Support groups specifically tailored for individuals with postpartum depression can also provide valuable emotional support and a sense of community. In more severe cases, antidepressant medication may be prescribed under the guidance of a healthcare professional. It's important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on individual needs and circumstances.