8 Most Common Signs of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

8 Most Common Signs of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Kristin Lasseter, MD

8 Most Common Signs of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

By Kristin Lasseter, MD

Before reading this article, I just want to note that postpartum mental illness often looks different in different people. This article should not be used to diagnose yourself or anyone else, rather, it should be used as a tool for signs to look out for. It may be worth reaching out to a mental health professional to discuss the items below in more detail.

This list is a gathering of the most common symptoms I hear from patients who are suffering emotionally or having a lot of anxiety in the postpartum period. I want to put this list out there, because depression and anxiety after having a baby can look very different from other types of depression and anxiety. Also, I want more people to recognize the signs, because it’s not always easy to know what’s normal and what’s not, especially when you’re in the throes of surviving parenthood. It is so important to get help for symptoms though, since more and more research is showing vast detrimental effects depression and anxiety in a parent can have on the development of a child - both physically and mentally. These symptoms can show up during pregnancy too, and if it’s happening during pregnancy, it often means it will get worse after delivery. If you or a loved one is currently pregnant, make sure to look into natural ways to prevent postpartum mental illness. So let’s get started on what to look out for:

  1. You can’t sleep.
  2. Let’s be real. No one is sleeping great when there’s a newborn in the house. People who are experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety though, usually have a really hard time sleeping even when the baby is sleeping. They usually feel exhausted and have a desire to sleep, but they can’t relax enough to fall asleep, or their mind won’t turn off with different worries and fears. In some cases, it is thought that sleep deprivation is part of the cause of postpartum mental illness. It is so important for your brain to get good sleep! Make it a priority to get about 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep each day. This can be done by splitting night duties with a partner, parent or night nanny.
  3. Scary images or thoughts come into your head.
  4. It’s normal to be more anxious after a baby comes into your life. Biologically, our brains are designed to be on overdrive with a newborn around, which makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. New parents can sometimes have intrusive images of scary things happening to their babies, too. These images or thoughts come around daily or multiple times a day, for some parents suffering with anxiety though, and are then considered to be part of postpartum anxiety rather than normal. Sometimes, these intrusive thoughts are hard to let go of, and can cause a parent to avoid doing certain things because of the thoughts. It is not uncommon for parents with postpartum anxiety to have unwanted thoughts or images of harming their own baby too. As you can imagine, this can be very distressing and frightening to a parent, and I often hear parents voice the concern that they are “going crazy.” People who have these thoughts are not at risk for actually harming their babies though, and they’re not going crazy (cue the uneducated providers who call CPS on these poor parents). Instead, they are suffering from symptoms that are likened to OCD and can be successfully treated with therapy and/or medication.
  5. You don’t feel a bond with your baby.
  6. It is not always love at first sight when a parent first sees their baby, and that’s okay. Some people are slower to warm up to others, including a baby. Also, babies don’t give us much interaction in the beginning, which can make it harder to form that immediate infatuation. I get more worried about postpartum mental illness, though, when the bond isn’t progressing. Some women with postpartum mood disturbance tell me they sometimes feel like the baby isn’t even really theirs.  
  7. You feel irritable or sad most of the time.
  8. There is a thing called the baby blues that occurs in most women after they have a baby. The baby blues doesn’t mean you’re sad all of the time though, and it always resolves after 2 weeks. Those women who are irritable most of the time or feeling sad most of the time, are most likely going through something more than just the baby blues. Anxiety can make people really irritable, and depression can too. While being a parent to an infant is not all rainbows and butterflies, it shouldn’t be complete misery either.
  9. You are unable to feel pleasure or excitement with activities like you used to.
  10. It’s common that people with anxiety and depression just don’t feel the same excitement as they used to. They don’t look forward to activities very much or don’t find that they get a lot of pleasure out of life anymore. Hobbies often fall to the wayside in parents going through too much stress or emotions, not only because time is more scarce, but also because those hobbies just don’t feel fun anymore. They may also notice they’re less interested in food, going out or spending time with friends.
  11. You feel excessively guilty or that you are not doing a good enough job.
  12. Everyone has moments in parenthood where they doubt themselves or they make mistakes. These moments usually come more often in the beginning as you’re learning about your baby. Not to mention the fact that you finally get down a routine, and then your baby changes it up on you. Very often, though, I hear moms suffering from postpartum depression say that the baby deserves a better mom than them. They talk about how they don’t feel good enough to be the baby’s mother, or how they feel like a burden to their partner. These thoughts are often a product of emotion or stress dysregulation and should raise concern for postpartum depression or anxiety.
  13. You have trouble motivating yourself.
  14. Having a newborn in the house will throw off anyone’s motivation. You’re not sleeping well. You don’t have much time to eat. You barely even have time to go to the bathroom without having this new human protest for you to pick it back up. So when you finally get a moment to rest, you take it. Amotivation, or lack of motivation, comes up when even small activities seem impossible though. For example, not leaving the house for days because it is too overwhelming. Or not bathing, not changing your clothes, not brushing your teeth. Or in some extreme cases, women even have trouble taking care of their baby.
  15. You have thoughts that your family would be better off without you, or wishes that something bad would happen to you.
  16. If your mind goes to a place where dying seems like a good option, then it is definitely time to talk to someone. Often times, though, it doesn’t start out that way. “Suicidal ideation,” as we call it, is on a spectrum. For some people, it can just be thoughts of escaping, running away, disappearing or pushing pause on life. Others may have wishes that something bad would happen to them, like a car wreck or cancer. And some may actually have thoughts of ending their life, because that seems like the only way out from the suffering. It isn’t though. It’s possible to feel normal again, but it takes telling someone in order to get there.

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, consider chatting with someone at National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, either online or by calling 1-800-273-8255. If you think you may be suffering from mental illness in pregnancy or postpartum, it may be helpful to talk to someone at Postpartum Support International by calling 1-800-944-4773 or texting them at 503-894-9453.

Here’s a helpful infographic from momlovesbest.com


October 26, 2019