Q&A: Common signs of postpartum depression

Q: How do I know if I have postpartum depression?

A: For new moms, the time after childbirth is a chaotic whirlwind of emotions. One minute you’re elated by your cooing bundle of joy, the next you’re frustrated when your baby won’t cooperate with your diaper-changing efforts. But for some mothers, the first few weeks with a newborn can bring on severe depression and a deep emotional pain that refuses to quit. That’s called postpartum depression, and it’s more common than you may think.

According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, postpartum depression affects one in seven mothers. The exact causes of postpartum depression are unknown, but physical and emotional stressors play a key role, such as previous bouts of depression and hormonal changes. After childbirth, levels of estrogen and progesterone dramatically drop. Though this drop is normal and expected, studies suggest that some women may have an increased sensitivity to these changes and be predisposed to depression because of it.

Here are the five most common signs of postpartum depression:

  1. You lose interest in the things you used to enjoy. Take note if the things you once loved — a favorite movie, activity or time with your significant other — no longer bring you happiness, or you have no interest in them at all.
  2. You can’t shake the sadness. Often called the “baby blues,” it’s common for postpartum mothers to experience a dip in mood for the first few weeks after pregnancy. However, the feeling should not persist for a period longer than three weeks.
  3. You can’t rest or you sleep too much. Naturally, your sleep patterns will change after childbirth. But if you find yourself unable to rest when your baby does, or if you find yourself sleeping much longer than what seems natural, that could signify a larger problem.
  4. You have trouble making decisions. All new parents feel scatterbrained from time to time. However, watch out for difficulty making even the smallest of decisions, such as whether to get out of bed or change your baby’s diaper.
  5. You have thoughts of self-harm or harming others. This is a clear sign of depression. If you have thoughts about harming yourself or others, seek immediate help.

Experiencing one or more of these symptoms is a red flag. Talk to your doctor, who may recommend further treatment. And stay connected to your support system of friends and family.

Afua Mintah, M.D., is an obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Mary Medical Center.