Do I Have Postpartum Depression? Risk Factors And Symptoms

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated July 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Postpartum depression (PPD), otherwise known as postnatal depression, is a serious depressive disorder from the DSM-5 that can impact an individual's well-being, bond with a new child, physical, and mental health. Many gestational parents—in addition to partners and adoptive parents—experience postpartum depression. Postpartum depression statistics show that one in seven women develop postpartum depression after the birth of their child. 

If you're a parent wondering whether you're living with postpartum depression, there are several indicators that you can look out for to determine if it's a possibility. Looking at these factors can help you know when to reach out for support.

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What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that may develop after an individual gives birth to a child. Although it is common for gestational parents, partners and adoptive parents with new children can also experience this mental health condition. Symptoms may begin within a few days to weeks following a child's birth or adoption. They can also occur during pregnancy, referred to as peripartum depression. 

Some new parents experience shifts in mood following the birth of their child. These feelings, often called baby blues, disappear after a few weeks. Postpartum depression, however, is a mental illness and comes with severe symptoms that can mimic other depressive disorders. A new parent may feel severe shifts in mood, sleep disruptions, fatigue, and trouble connecting with their child.

Although the precise cause of onset is unknown, postpartum depression is thought to develop due to genetics and changes in hormone levels following pregnancy. Postpartum depression can be dangerous, so reaching out for support may be essential.  

Symptoms of postpartum depression

The hormonal changes following pregnancy and birth may obscure postpartum depression symptoms. Still, several well-defined symptoms are associated with the condition, which a mental health care professional can evaluate. Below are some of the most common symptoms of this condition.  

Prolonged sadness 

Although sadness and overwhelm are often expected following birth, persistent low mood is a sign that depression could be present. If you feel sad daily and struggle to find happiness or moments of laughter, you might be living with PPD. 

Difficulty bonding 

Gestational parents and their babies often bond in the weeks and months following birth. However, postpartum depression can cause a parent to struggle to feel close to their child. For this reason, they may not form a significant connection or feel resentment or anger at their child.    

Disrupted sleep patterns 

Postpartum depression often leads to an individual experiencing sleep disturbance. These might include insomnia (struggling to fall or stay asleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping too often or for too long). These symptoms can lead to difficulty attending to a baby's needs as they require. 

Fatigue 

Many new parents experience a lack of sleep, as newborns sleep only two to three hours or less at a time. However, sustained or severe fatigue may be a sign of postpartum depression.

Shame and guilt 

While some amount of concern can be expected from a new parent, a parent with postpartum depression may feel as though they are incapable of caring for their child or excessively shameful or guilty about a perceived lack of ability. They might feel that their child deserves another parent. 

Thoughts of harm or suicide 

Thoughts of self-harm or suicide sometimes mark postpartum depression. In addition, thoughts of harming the child can occur. This symptom can be distressing for a new parent. If you feel the urge to harm your child, immediately contact a licensed professional for support.  

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Am I experiencing postpartum depression?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that new parents get screened for postpartum depression at least once during the perinatal period. Many health insurance providers cover depression tests. One of the most common screeners for postpartum depression is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. This postnatal depression scale assesses the mood in women during and within the first year of pregnancy. Soon to be or new mothers can use these depression screening scales to gain insight into their mental and emotional well-being. However, when performed in your own time, it’s important to note that the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is not a formal diagnosis.

If you believe you may be living with postpartum depression, a medical or mental health professional can administer this test and interpret your results. Often, a higher score corresponds to a higher likelihood of postpartum depression. Along with other applicable data, a mental health professional may use your postpartum depression quiz or scale results to formally diagnose you with postpartum depression. 

Risk factors for PPD 

Although postpartum depression is a condition that must be diagnosed by a professional, a few factors could help you determine whether you are at risk of living with this condition, including the following. 

A family history of postpartum depression 

One of the most significant risk factors for developing postpartum depression is the family history of the condition. Having a sibling, parent, or grandparent with the diagnosis can indicate an increased risk of developing the condition.  

A family history of mood disorders 

If there is not a family history of postpartum depression, but there are instances of other mood disorders in your family, you may be at higher risk for developing the condition. Other mood disorders can include major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders. 

Significantly altered hormone levels 

During pregnancy and after birth, the human body undergoes intense hormonal changes, which can produce heightened mental and emotional effects. Working with a professional to test hormone levels can be one step in determining whether you are at risk for postpartum depression.

Treating postpartum depression

If your answers to a postpartum depression test indicate that treatment is encouraged, several options exist. Postpartum depression is often treated using a two-pronged approach that includes psychotherapy and medication. Therapy is often the first-line treatment for someone coping with postpartum depression, as medications can impact breastfeeding for those who choose to. The precise duration and frequency with which therapy is administered may depend on the severity of the condition. 

Therapy for PPD 

One of the most common psychotherapy methods for postpartum depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). With cognitive-behavioral therapy, the therapist helps clients understand the connection between their thoughts, emotions, and actions. For example, they may help a new mother realize that her feelings of inadequacy, which are leading to depression symptoms, can be challenged and replaced with more productive thought patterns. 

Medication 

Medication may be recommended for individuals with postpartum depression as a short-term management plan. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, Zuranalone is one effective form of medication for people dealing with postpartum depression. These medications may help parents create a safe, healthy home environment. In addition to utilizing the help of a doctor or other medical professional who can prescribe medication, some therapists may enlist the services of practitioners who can implement dietary and lifestyle changes to support healing. However, consult a doctor, like a psychiatrist, before starting, changing, or stopping any medication. 

Social support 

Some new parents may feel uncomfortable relying on their partners or other adults to support them and care for their children. However, coping with a mental health condition while caring for a baby can be overwhelming. To avoid additional stress, consider accepting offers of assistance from friends and loved ones or asking for help. 

Postpartum psychosis treatment 

Other, more intense types of postpartum mental health challenges, such as postpartum psychosis, may require more significant treatment and intervention. Although they only make up about 1% to 2% of new mothers, people with postpartum psychosis can experience extreme cognitive distortions and exhibit paranoid behavior, which may lead to danger for the parent and child. In these cases, temporary inpatient hospitalization may be recommended. 

The onset of postpartum depression symptoms can make mothers feel frightened, isolated, and disconnected from their children. Although symptoms often subside within a year, seeking comprehensive mental healthcare can be vital. Postpartum conditions are considered highly treatable, and the support and guidance of a professional can ensure symptoms are adequately managed. 

If you're living with postpartum depression or psychosis, consider reaching out for help. You can speak to a therapist for advice and support or find treatment facilities through the Treatment Services Locator page, available on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's section of the US Department of Health and Human Services site. 

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Alternative counseling options 

Some parents may find that parenting a new child makes it difficult to reach out for face-to-face treatment due to commute times, scheduling, and availability. If you relate, you might benefit from an online platform like BetterHelp. 

Research shows that online therapy for postpartum depression can benefit those living with this condition. In a study of 50 women who scored a ten or higher on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, researchers found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy significantly decreased symptoms of postpartum depression. They also found reductions in anxiety and parenting-related stress, along with increases in overall quality of life. 

If you're living with postpartum depression, know that help is available. With an online therapy platform, you can work through emotions related to depression, parenting, or similar challenges remotely, which can be helpful if you have a newborn at home. Some platforms have over 30,000 therapists with various specialties and areas of expertise. You may be able to match with a therapist with experience specifically in PPD. 

Takeaway

It can be challenging to know whether you're experiencing postpartum depression following your child's birth or adoption. After reading about the above signs and symptoms, you may want to pursue a depression quiz or screening. When used by your healthcare professional alongside other applicable information, this may lead to a formal diagnosis. If you'd like further support in managing symptoms of postpartum depression, consider contacting a licensed therapist specializing in this condition. You're not alone, and support is possible.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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