Recognizing the Signs of Postpartum Depression: 11 Warning Signs To Watch For

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In becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, you’ll become better able to improve your mental health.

Q: I just had my first baby and I’m unclear about what postpartum depression actually looks like. New parents hear about postpartum depression all the time but I don’t know what the symptoms are or how I would know if I’m suffering. When does postpartum depression show up? How is it different from regular depression?

A: Postpartum depression is such a common experience among new parents and yet, there remains to be a lot of confusion surrounding its signs and symptoms. It’s entirely true that most people have at least heard of postpartum depression (PPD) but when it comes to really understanding this mood disorder, so many of us are at a loss. What are the signs of postpartum depression? What warning signs should you and your partner take seriously? Can dads and non-birthing parents get postpartum depression? When does postpartum depression show up? 

We’re going to get into all of that because yes, while welcoming a new baby to your family might be a joyous moment, it can also simultaneously be a time when mental health takes a hit. Both can exist at the same time so if you or your partner are feeling low or depressed, don’t burden yourself with guilt on top of that.  

When do signs of postpartum depression show up?

For a significant population of new parents, the period after having a baby can bring about unexpected challenges and emotional distress. A lot of new parents especially do not know when the signs of postpartum depression show up. 

There can be a common misconception that PPD sets in immediately after the birth of a new child. This isn’t true. While PPD can start in the days and weeks right after the baby is born, its onset can really be at any time in the first year after the birth. In other words, you may feel completely fine and unaffected for the first three or six months of your infant’s life but then experience a significant downturn in your mood at month eight or nine. 

Another misconception in regards to the timeline of PPD is that it can’t exist beyond the baby years. If PPD is left untreated though, it can last for several years of your child’s life. 

All of this can cast a major shadow over what you may have expected to be a fully joyful time in life. That’s why understanding and recognizing the signs of postpartum depression is crucial for both mothers and their families. 

In this post we shed light on this important topic, helping new parents and their support system to identify the warning signs of postpartum depression. 

Remember, everything is treatable so even if you recognize yourself or a loved one in the points below, know that support and treatment is available. Also note that the below can be signs of postpartum depression in dads or non-birthing parents as well as mothers. 

  1. Persistent Sadness or Irritability

One of the hallmark signs of postpartum depression is a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, or irritability that doesn’t seem to improve with time. It’s common (note that common doesn’t mean normal) for new parents to experience mood swings, but if these negative emotions persist for several weeks or months, it could be a cause for concern.

  1. Changes in Appetite

Significant changes in appetite can also be an indicator of postpartum depression. Some parents may experience a loss of appetite while others may turn to food for comfort. Of course, you know your body best so play detective and ask yourself if these changes are beyond what you could have expected. Monitoring changes like a shift in appetite is all part of getting more familiar with your mental health patterns. 

  1. Sleep Disturbances

Sleep deprivation is a common experience for new parents given that babies wake several times throughout the night and feed more regularly than older kids. That said, postpartum depression can exacerbate sleep disturbances. That’s why so many mothers and fathers talk about insomnia during this phase of life. If you find yourself unable to sleep even when your baby is resting or you have extreme difficulty falling asleep, this could be a sign of a mood disorder and seeking support may help you better transition to this new role. 

  1. Overwhelming Fatigue

While a certain amount of fatigue can reasonably be expected after giving birth and experiencing hormonal shifts, postpartum depression can take it to another level leading to extreme exhaustion that interferes with your ability to function. If your fatigue feels overwhelming and persistent, it might be a sign of a mental health issue that needs addressing.

  1. Lack of Interest in Activities

Postpartum depression, like regular depression, can diminish your interest in activities that you once enjoyed. If you find yourself withdrawing from hobbies, socializing, or everyday pleasures, this could be a sign that PPD is at play. Of course, having a newborn baby just means that there’s naturally going to be more on your plate and so logically you just won’t have time for yoga classes or nights out with friends. 

What you’re looking for here is a total drain of passion or the inability to look forward to small doses of the activities you usually enjoy. Also note that many of the symptoms on this list are the same as the warning signs for general depression. These two mood issues look the same in many ways but the difference is the timing and onset. PPD starts within that first year after the birth of a child whereas regular depression can happen during any phase of life. 

  1. Difficulty Bonding with the Baby

Some parents with postpartum depression may struggle to bond with their newborns. They might feel emotionally disconnected or even resentful towards their infants, which can be distressing. This can be alarming because many parents assume that they’ll naturally fall in love with the baby immediately. 

For perinatal mental health professionals though, this is entirely unsurprising because of how common it is. If this sounds like your experience, don’t stress—that love will grow over time and that’s ok. In the meantime, get curious about your experience and if PPD may be playing a role. 

  1. Intrusive Thoughts 

Intrusive thoughts are those unwelcome, uninvited thoughts that flash into your mind out of the blue. They can look like mentally picturing something bad happening to you or your baby or entertaining worst-case, but unlikely, scenarios. This is sometimes the result of a protection instinct because your nervous system is hyper aware of all potential threats in order to be aware enough to prevent them. They can also be a symptoms of anxiety or depression. These thoughts can feel scary, unsettling, or make a new parent question their intentions or ability to care for their infant. 

Intrusive thoughts are more often a product of general or postpartum anxiety but they can trigger depression when the thoughts weigh on self-esteem, make you question your decision to become a parent, or trigger a stream of self criticism. 

  1. Physical Symptoms

Postpartum depression can manifest physically as well. Some may experience headaches, digestive issues, sleep trouble, a general queasiness, or chronic pain that cannot be attributed to any other medical condition. These physical symptoms can be linked to the emotional distress of postpartum depression. Remember that the brain and body are connected so if your mental health is suffering, that will show up in other ways as well. 

  1. Difficulty Concentrating

The inability to concentrate, think clearly, remember certain details, or make decisions is another common symptom of postpartum depression. You may find it challenging to focus on tasks, plan, or make simple choices, which can affect your daily life. 

  1. Persistent Feelings of Guilt or Worthlessness

Feelings of guilt and worthlessness can weigh heavily on parents with postpartum depression. You may constantly blame yourself for perceived shortcomings or feel like you’re not measuring up. This can often sound like, “I’m a horrible parent,” “My child deserves better,” “My family would be better off without me,” or “I’m never going to get the hang of this parenting thing. Everyone else is doing so much better.” 

Remember that societal standards for parenting set us up for perceived failure. That’s a whole other blog post (or several) but for now remember that you don’t become an expert overnight and you’re capable of calling the shots. 

  1. Withdrawal from Relationships

Postpartum depression can lead to social withdrawal, where you isolate yourself from friends and family. It’s crucial to maintain a support network during this time (and ask for help!), so if you notice yourself becoming increasingly distant, consider seeking help. Of course, it’s not expected that you’ll maintain a very active social life during this time but try spending some time reflecting on whether or not you’re inviting in the bare minimum and whether social interactions make you feel good… or if you’d rather avoid others. 

Recognizing the signs of postpartum depression is the first step toward getting the help and support needed to overcome this challenging condition. New mothers, fathers, and non-birthing parents as well as those in their support network should remain vigilant and proactive in addressing postpartum depression to ensure the well-being of everyone. 

Remember that PPD is a common experience and one that is treatable with the right tools, tactics, communication, and support. We have a team of therapists across all of Canada who are trained specifically in perinatal mental health. That means we specialize in supporting parents during this phase of life. We have niche training to understand everything you’re experiencing and what’s likely to be going through your mind if PPD is at play. Reach out to learn how you can get the proper support, get matched with a therapist, or book a session. 

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About The perinatal collective

Welcome! So glad you're here. 

We're a team of mental health therapists across Canada with advanced education and experience in perinatal mental health, meaning you don't have to cross your fingers and hope that we understand how hard this stage can be.

We understand the nuances of the early stages of parenthood: how typical counselling strategies may not be relevant to parents with young kids, and how mental health challenges look different during this time.  

From deciding to have children, to navigating your journey through fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, relationship changes, parenting, career demands and beyond, parenthood can be full with challenges.

Our goal is to help you manage the peaks and valleys of the entire journey, while staying connected to yourself, and feeling whole, along the way.