written by: Nicole Etolen
• edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick
• updated: 5/17/2011
After giving birth, hormone levels drop and the mood swings commonly kick in, resulting in what many dub "the baby blues". However, some women experience symptoms that are much more severe. Learn to recognize the signs of postpartum depression.
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While many women experience “the baby blues" as their hormone levels drop after delivery, some women experience a deeper, more intense depression called postpartum depression. While the signs and symptoms vary from woman to woman, a few common ones emerge with such frequency that they have become the hallmark symptoms of the disorder.
Mood Swings: Mood swings are common after giving birth thanks to the rapidly changing hormones. However, in postpartum depression, they are more frequent and intense. For example, one moment you may be happily gazing on your newborn’s face, marveling at the utter sweetness of his perfectly formed little mouth, then the next minute you find yourself crying hysterically and wondering why you thought you could handle raising at child. In postpartum depression, the mood swings come on fast and unexpectedly.
Sleep Disruptions: Like mood swings, sleep disruptions are a common part of being a new mother, which is why so many veteran parents harp on the “sleep when the baby sleeps" cliché ad nauseum. Sleeping in spurts of two or three hours throughout the day and night is bound to take its toll. However, if you find yourself frequently suffering from insomnia or fatigue so extreme that it is difficult to function, it may be postpartum depression.
Irritability and Anger: Mild irritability is a natural response to the lack of sleep and hormonal changes, but extreme irritability and irrational anger, especially towards your baby, can be a sign of a deeper issue.
Difficulty Bonding With Your Baby:Postpartum depression can interfere with your ability to bond with your newborn. If you are avoiding contact with your baby, or merely going through the routines of caring for him but feeling no emotional connection, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about postpartum depression.
Loss of Interest:Like many other symptoms, some loss of interest in sex, interacting with friends and family, or other daily activities are all normal parts of being a new mother. Caring for a newborn can be an all-consuming task, leaving very little time for socializing. However, there is a difference between merely not having the time for other parts of your life and having absolutely no interest in those activities.
Thoughts of Harm: Postpartum depression can cause thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. It is important to seek medical help if you experience this symptom because, in rare cases, it can also be a sign of postpartum psychosis, a far more serious disorder that may lead to acting on those thoughts.
If you have one or more of the above signs and symptoms, contact your physician. While postpartum depression cannot be diagnosed through a tangible test such as blood work, your obstetrician is trained to recognize the signs. Even if you think your symptoms are too mild to cross the line from normal “baby blues" to postpartum depression, when it comes to your health and the health of your baby, it is always best to err on the side of caution.