What does it feel like to have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety?  What are the symptoms?  How do you know when you have it?

Perhaps you’ve seen a list of symptoms on other health websites, but we doubt you’ve seen one like this.  We have created a list of the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety, but in “plain mama English”.  We won’t use words like hypomania or dysthymia or suicidality or psychomotor agitation — the kind of terms you might see elsewhere.  We will use the words mom hear in their heads when they think about what is happening to them.

When you read the 2 lists below, one for PPD and one for postpartum anxiety/postpartum OCD, keep in mind a few very important things:

  1. You may not be experiencing all of the symptoms below or even most of them.  Postpartum depression and anxiety are not “one-size-fits-all” illnesses.  Your experience may be focused on just a few of the following symptoms and you may not have others at all.  For instance, some women with postpartum depression are sad and crying all the time, whereas others don’t experience the sadness but are instead very angry and irritable.
  2. Many people have a feeling like the ones listed below every now and then.  For a day, or maybe two.  We all have bad days.  Postpartum depression and anxiety are not bad days.  Women with postpartum depression or anxiety have symptoms like these most or all of the time, for a period of at least 2 weeks, and these symptoms interfere with their ability to function on a daily basis.
  3. Postpartum depression and anxiety are sometimes “comorbid”.  This means you can have a bit of both, or all of both.  If you have symptoms on both lists, that’s not out of the ordinary.

Okay.  Here we go.

You may have postpartum depression if you have had a baby within the last 12 months and are experiencing some of these symptoms:

  • You feel overwhelmed.  Not like “hey, this new mom thing is hard.”  More like “I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this.”  You feel like you just can’t handle being a mother.  In fact, you may be wondering whether you should have become a mother in the first place.
  • You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this.  You feel like your baby deserves better.  You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would.  You may wonder whether your baby would be better off without you.
  • You don’t feel bonded to your baby.  You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines.
  • You can’t understand why this is happening.  You are very confused and scared.
  • You feel irritated or angry.  You have no patience.  Everything annoys you.  You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies.  You feel out-of-control rage.
  • You feel nothing.  Emptiness.  You are just going through the motions.
  • You feel sadness to the depths of your soul.  You can’t stop crying, even when there’s no real reason to be crying.
  • You feel hopeless, like this situation will never ever get better.  You feel weak and defective.  You feel like a failure.
  • You can’t bring yourself to eat, or perhaps the only thing that makes you feel better is eating.
  • You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, nor can you sleep at any other time.  Or maybe you can fall asleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep no matter how tired you are.  Or maybe all you can do is sleep and you can’t seem to stay awake to get the most basic things done.  Whichever it is, your sleeping is completely screwed up, and it’s not just because you have a newborn.
  • You can’t concentrate.  You can’t focus.  You can’t think of the words you want to say.  You can’t remember what you were supposed to do.  You can’t make a decision.  You feel like you’re in a fog.
  • You feel disconnected.  You feel strangely apart from everyone for some reason, like there’s an invisible wall between you and the rest of the world.
  • Maybe you’re doing everything right.  You are exercising.  You are taking your vitamins.  You have a healthy spirituality.  You do yoga.  You’re thinking “Why can’t I just get over this?”   You feel like you should be able to snap out of it, but you can’t.
  • You might be having thoughts of running away and leaving your family behind.  Or you’ve thought of driving off the road, or taking too many pills, or finding some other way to end this misery.  Or you may have thoughts of harming others.
  • You know something is wrong.  You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right.  You think you’ve “gone crazy”.
  • You are afraid that this is your new reality and that you’ve lost the “old you” forever.
  • You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you.  Or that your baby will be taken away.

You may have postpartum anxiety or postpartum OCD if you have had a baby within the last 12 months and are experiencing some of these symptoms:

  • Your thoughts are racing.  You can’t quiet your mind.  You can’t settle down.  You can’t relax.
  • You feel like you have to be doing something at all times.  Cleaning bottles.  Cleaning baby clothes.  Cleaning the house.  Doing work.  Entertaining the baby.  Checking on the baby.
  • You are worried.  Really worried.  All. The. Time.  Am I doing this right?  Will my husband come home from his trip?  Will the baby wake up?  Is the baby eating enough?  Is there something wrong with the baby that I’m missing?  No matter what anyone says to reassure you it doesn’t help.
  • You may be having disturbing thoughts.  Thoughts that you’ve never had before.  Thoughts that make you wonder whether you aren’t the person you thought you were.  They fly into your head unwanted and you know they aren’t right, that this isn’t the real you, but they terrify you and they won’t go away.  These thoughts may start with the words “What if …”
  • You are afraid to be alone with your baby because of the thoughts.  You are also afraid of things in your house that could potentially cause harm, like kitchen knives or stairs, and you avoid them like the plague.
  • You have to check things constantly.  Did I lock the door?  Did I lock the car?  Did I turn off the oven?  Is the baby breathing?
  • You may be having physical symptoms like stomach cramps or headaches, shakiness or nausea.  You might even have panic attacks.
  • You feel like a captive animal, pacing back and forth in a cage.  Restless.  On edge.
  • You can’t eat.  You have no appetite.
  • You can’t sleep.  You are so, so tired, but you can’t sleep.
  • You feel a sense of dread all the time, like something terrible is going to happen.
  • You know something is wrong.  You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right.  You think you’ve “gone crazy”.
  • You are afraid that this is your new reality and that you’ve lost the “old you” forever.
  • You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you.  Or that your baby will be taken away.

Now that you’ve gone through these lists are you thinking “How the heck does this lady know me? Is there a hidden camera in here?”  Nope.  What this should tell you is that you are NOT alone and you are NOT a freak and you are NOT highly unusual.  If you are having these feelings and symptoms then it is possible you are experiencing common disorders that 15 to 20% of new mothers have, and they are completely treatable.  Just reach out for help.

If you are pregnant and are having symptoms similar to those listed above, you should know that you aren’t unusual either.  You may have antepartum depression or anxiety, which are just as common but occur during the nine months of pregnancy.

Here are some resources for you:

Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Frequently Asked Questions

Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Groups

Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Organizations

Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Treatment Programs & Hospitals

Postpartum Support International

Oh, and it’s a good idea to speak with your physician to get a physical so that you can rule out other illnesses that may be causing your postpartum depression or anxiety symptoms, such as an underlying thyroid problem.

One last thing:  If you are having moments where it seems like you can see or hear things no one else does, if you are feeling paranoid as if others are out to get you, if you are feeling that you or your baby are somehow related to the devil or God in some way, or if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, it’s important to reach out for help right now.  These symptoms require immediate attention as they could be signs of postpartum psychosis or severe postpartum depression.  If you have these symptoms, your illness has the potential to take over and lead you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do.  In order to avoid that it is important to reach out for help right away so that trained professionals can help you get stabilized and healthy.