Postpartum mental health conditions you should know about

Women's Health
Mother with a newborn baby looking sad and stressed.

Postpartum emotional struggles are common. In fact, plenty of celebrities—including Chrissy Teigen, Adele and Gwyneth Paltrow—have spoken out about their postpartum experiences in an attempt to build awareness about the challenges of becoming a parent.

Fortunately, postpartum mental health conditions like these are treatable. With the right support and patience, you can navigate your emotions during this special but also challenging time.

Here are some postpartum challenges you might experience—some of which you may be familiar with, and some you may not.

The baby blues

Those first few days after delivery will be a whirlwind. Amidst the first cuddles, adorable photos and precious moments with your new baby, you may feel plenty of joy. But many new parents often experience a period of "the baby blues."

The baby blues are different for everyone, but they can make you feel emotional, irritable, tearful, overwhelmed and fatigued.

These feelings may come and go, but they usually show up and resolve within the first two weeks after birth, as this is the time it may take for hormone levels to return to pre-pregnancy levels.

If you experience emotions that last longer, it may be a sign of another postpartum mental health condition.

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a common postpartum condition. Up to one in seven women experience this condition that causes intense feelings of sadness, despair and anxiety. These feelings are so all-encompassing that they can make it difficult to go about your daily tasks, including caring for your baby.

"Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression can occur up to a year after having a baby, though it's most likely to begin about one to three weeks after delivery. Also, unlike the baby blues, PPD is less likely to go away on its own," says Jennifer L. Cutilli, MD, and OB/GYN physician at Main Line Health.

PPD can be different for every woman, but signs include:

  • A loss of interest in things you once loved
  • Changes in appetite, including eating more or less than you previously did
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Extreme sadness
  • Crying uncontrollably for extended periods of time
  • Fears, such as of not being a good mom or being left alone with your baby
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself (If you experience thoughts of self-harm, contact your healthcare provider or another resource, like the National Hopeline Network, immediately.)

It's not known what causes postpartum depression. It may be caused by a drop in hormone levels right after birth. Risk factors for PPD developing include a personal or family history of depression, poor social support and poor sleep.

Postpartum anxiety

From how to care for your baby to wondering when you'll ever get a full night of sleep again, there's a lot of factors of becoming a parent that can cause anxiety. But if feelings of anxiety don't subside, or they interfere with your ability to go about your day, it might be postpartum anxiety (PPA).

"PPA is a common postnatal condition that affects 10% of postpartum women. However, due to a lack of awareness as well as challenges in diagnosing PPA, many cases go undiagnosed," says Dr. Cutilli.

Sometimes it's experienced on its own and other times it can be experienced along with depression.

Postpartum anxiety can cause:

  • Constant worry
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • Racing thoughts
  • Disturbances of sleep and appetite
  • Inability to sit still or get rest
  • Physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes and nausea

Postpartum psychosis

"Though very rare, women can also experience postpartum psychosis after giving birth," says Kathryn M. Zagrabbe, MD, a psychiatrist with Main Line Health's Women's Emotional Wellness Center. "This serious condition affects approximately one in every 1,000 births, and it's considered a psychiatric emergency."

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis can include:

  • Delusions (beliefs not consistent with reality)
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there)
  • Feeling very irritated
  • Hyperactivity
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Confusion or difficulty communicating

Women who have a history of other mental health conditions, like schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder, have a higher risk of developing postpartum psychosis. If you or a loved one is showing signs of postpartum psychosis, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately.

How to navigate postpartum conditions

Postpartum mental health conditions are treatable with professional assistance. If you're experiencing difficulties after giving birth, please contact a professional—asking for help is the first step towards feeling better.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Jennifer L. Cutilli, MD
Make an appointment with Kathryn M. Zagrabbe, MD
Learn more about prenatal visits at Main Line Health
Learn more about the Women's Emotional Wellness Center