Many people either don’t know that they’re dealing with postpartum depression—or they only realize it after the fact. Here, get a full understanding of postpartum depression, its warning signs, symptoms, and risk factors.
If you’re a parent or planning to become one, you’re probably already familiar with the term postpartum depression (PPD).
About 1 in 5 moms, and 1 in 10 dads will go on to develop postpartum depression. But even though it’s this prevalent (and a condition that most people have at least heard), it’s often not fully understood.
Many new moms either don’t know that they’re dealing with postpartum depression — or they only realize in retrospect after the fact.
Our goal is to help increase awareness of PPD: its warning signs, symptoms, ways it shows up in real life, and risk factors.
Below you’ll find a full guide to PPD so that if you or a loved one experiences this mood disturbance after having a baby, you can recognize it and treat it right away.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a mental health condition where parents experience a significant dip in their mood in the weeks or months after giving birth. We also use the term “perinatal depression” which includes a person’s experience during pregnancy. In fact, the rates of depression during pregnancy are the same as those postpartum.
While technical definitions will set the timeline of postpartum depression to within one year after giving birth, therapists, counselors, medical care providers, and practitioners know that the timelines for mental health issues often aren’t as neatly packaged as this. Left untreated or unmanaged, postpartum depression can actually linger well beyond that year mark and into the first few years of your child’s life.
So, just because your kids are no longer babies, this doesn’t mean that you are no longer considered to be suffering from PPD.
One common misconception about PPD is that it starts immediately after your child is born. This is not always the case. Perinatal depression can start at any point in pregnancy and during the first year after having a baby. Some women feel fine for several months postpartum, and then experience this mood dip when their baby is older.
As with all mental health conditions, there’s no exact timeline.
Signs and symptoms
The reason why perinatal depression can be hard to understand and easy to miss is because it shows up differently for everyone. Sure, we can usually grasp the concept that PPD is a type of depression experienced by postpartum women or birthing people. But being able to fully understand how it actually looks on a daily basis is something different altogether.
While this is by no means exhaustive, some of the most common symptoms of PPD are as follows:
- Strong feelings of sadness, anger, low self worth or irritability
- Feeling weepy or crying more regularly than normal
- Withdrawing from family, friends and postpartum support systems
- Not feeling like yourself and not knowing how to get back to normal
- Having a strong sense of being a failure or a “bad mom”
- Experiencing lack of motivation and desire
- Not being able to sleep or stay asleep at night
- Thoughts of harming yourself or thinking that your family is better off without you
- Having difficulty meeting basic needs like bathing, eating, sleeping and exercising
- Symptoms last for a prolonged period of time: much longer than just a few days or a couple weeks
New parents, partners and loved ones want to pay attention to all changes in mood and behaviour during this time to determine whether or not PPD is at play.
How does PPD differ from the baby blues?
This is one of the most common questions about postpartum depression. For new parents, it can be difficult to discern the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression because they can look quite similar.
After giving birth, changes in hormones, tiredness and the initial adjustment of caring for a newborn can have many women and parents feeling low, anxious, sad or irritated. When that lasts a few days to a couple weeks, that’s most likely what we call the baby blues. Baby blues normally end by about 14 days postpartum.
When the symptoms last for a prolonged period of time, that’s when we’re more likely talking about PPD. The difference is in how long the symptoms prevail, the intensity of the symptoms, and the impact of those symptoms on your life.
Who is most prone?
If you’re trying to assess risk factors or the chances of you experiencing PPD, there are a number of factors to look at that could signify that you’re more at risk.
Note that there is no concrete predictor of whether or not you will experience PPD but the below list may help you and your partner understand if you’re at a higher risk:
- Having experienced depression, anxiety, or another type of mental health issue in the past
- Not having an adequate support system in place
- Experiencing stress related to your relationship, finances, health, or having experienced a recent loss
- Having already experienced PPD with another child
- Experiencing abuse either in your relationship or otherwise
- Having a family history of mental health struggles
- Those who tend to exhibit perfectionist behaviour or unrealistically high expectations are also at risk
So, now what?
Whether you’re currently experiencing PPD or you believe that you may be at risk, there are a number of things that you can do. First of all, most new parents are comforted to know that everything is treatable. Yes, everything.
While postpartum depression may be common, it’s not normal and it’s not an experience that you just have to white knuckle your way through.
The good news about other mothers having been where you are is that therapists and practitioners have learned how to treat this mood disorder.
If you know that you’re experiencing PPD, the best thing to do is to reach out to a professional who is specifically trained in perinatal mental health.
Family, friends, postpartum doulas, counselors, and postpartum support groups are all great communities where you can receive the support you need.
Don’t be afraid to lean on others during this time! We are here to support.
In Canada? We have a team of perinatal mental health therapists who are trained to support moms as they navigate the challenges of motherhood. We also offer support for couples who are experiencing challenges in the relationship due to their growing family and changing roles. You can learn about our team here, and book a session.