Signs of Postpartum Depression

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 11, 2024
5 min read

Postpartum depression is a severe, long-lasting feeling of depression you may have after giving birth. Most people will have strong emotions after having a child, like feeling anxious, afraid, or guilty and could experience crying episodes and fatigue or restlessness; these early emotions may start during pregnancy (peripartum depression) and last from 2 to 3 weeks after giving birth. In about 1 of 7 people who have a newborn baby,  postpartum depression will occur.

Some early symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling sad or overwhelmed
  • Having mood swings or irritability
  • Having trouble with focus, sleep, or appetite
  • Crying

While these symptoms can be common in new parents, If you have some of the early warning signs of postpartum depression, talk to your doctor or counselor right away. The earlier you seek treatment, the sooner you can start to feel like yourself again.

  1. Your strong emotions after childbirth don’t get better. It’s common to have a dip in mood during your baby’s first 2 weeks. After that, you should feel better. But if you’re still sad or even hopeless weeks later and the feelings are growing stronger, that’s more than the early emotions that are more common after childbirth.
  2. Sadness or guilt take over your thoughts. Some parents may feel upset every so often. But if you have frequent crying spells, or you often feel unhappy about being a parent, or you’re often "down on yourself" as a parent, these may be among the first signs of postpartum depression.
  3. You lose interest and motivation to do things you enjoy. If you notice a change in your interest in doing certain activities you used to do before you were pregnant and had your baby, you may be experiencing postpartum depression. Talk to your doctor about changes in your mood and habits.
  4. You have trouble making decisions or focusing. Maybe you’re too tired to think straight. Maybe you just don’t care. If you can’t decide whether or not to get out of bed, take a shower, change your baby’s diaper, or take them for a walk, these may be early signs of postpartum depression.
  5. You worry you won’t be a good parent. Being worried about parenting is common among parents whose babies are sick or premature or were born with special needs. But if this is not your situation, then having constant doubts about yourself as a parent could mean something else.
  6. Your sleep patterns or eating habits have changed. It's natural for the way you sleep and eat to change when you become a new parent. But if you can’t even rest when your child is napping, or you’re sleeping all the time, that’s likely something other than a new sleep pattern.
  7. You lose motivation, energy, and interest in your baby. If you notice a change in how active you're able to be or if you have a decrease in interest in your baby or feel like you don't want your baby, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. This is another symptom of postpartum depression.
  8. You think about harming yourself or your baby. Thoughts of suicide, or hurting yourself or your baby, are advanced signs of postpartum depression and even postpartum psychosis, a rare and serious mental illness that happens with postpartum depression. If you’re having any kind of suicidal thoughts, you’re in crisis and need to call your doctor or the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 immediately to get help.

Although there's no official test for diagnosing postpartum depression, you will have a doctor's visit about 2-3 weeks after having your baby and they will do a depression screening. This will include questions about your emotions and the well-being of you and your baby.

Some warning signs you may have postpartum depression include:

  • Your depression becomes stronger over time. 
  • Your strong emotions last for more than 2 weeks.
  • You have trouble taking care of your baby.
  • It's difficult to handle normal daily tasks.
  • You have thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby.

If you think you may have postpartum depression, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The treatment options vary and depend on how severe your case is. They can include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Support group
  • Behavioral or talk therapy

Your doctor may also be able to refer you to someone who specializes in mental health. Or you can seek resources from organizations in your area like the National Alliance of Mental Illness or Postpartum Support International. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or are in emotional distress, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can help.  

Postpartum depression is a range of strong, long-lasting emotions you may feel when you have a baby. If you experience certain emotional changes, like crying spells, mood swings, or sadness, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. While these symptoms can be common and mild for some new parents, they can also be early signs of postpartum depression if they last longer than 2 weeks, grow stronger, change your ability to take care of your child or daily activities, or involve thinking of hurting yourself of your baby.

What are the red flags for postpartum depression? Some signs you may have postpartum depression is if you aren't able to do daily tasks or take care of your baby due to strong feelings or emotions during your pregnancy or after childbirth. These signs can include crying spells, not wanting to be around your family and friends, loss of energy or the ability to focus, anxiety, and thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. If you have any of these symptoms, it's best to tell your doctor as soon as possible. While some early symptoms can subside for some new parents, they could also be early signs of postpartum depression.

What are the red flags for postpartum psychosis? Postpartum psychosis is an extreme form of postpartum depression that requires immediate care. Some of the symptoms include hallucinating, feeling paranoid or ashamed, or becoming very active. With this condition, there's an increase in the risk of hurting yourself or your baby, which is why emergency treatment is needed. Treatment may involve medication, treatment, and therapy.

What is the most reliable predictor of postpartum depression? 

There are many risk factors for postpartum depression, including:

  • If you or a family member have had depression before
  • Trouble in your relationship or marriage
  • Little to no social support
  • Having mixed feelings about your pregnancy
  • Having a difficult pregnancy (for example having health conditions or delivering early)
  • Having a baby with certain health conditions
  • Being a single parent or having your child at a younger age (under 20 years old)
  • Being a parent of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.)