Postpartum Mood Disorders: FAQ


Pregnancy and childbirth are major life changes for women and their partners. The adjustment to new parenthood sometimes can be difficult. Irritability, anxiety and even sadness over changes in lifestyle can be expected as parents settle into a new routine of caring for an infant. However, if symptoms of depression or anxiety become overwhelming for a mother, or linger for longer than a week or two, the mother may have a Postpartum Mood Disorder.

  • Approximately 30 percent of women in the peripartum period – which includes the duration of pregnancy as well as the time following the birth of a child – meet a standardized screening tool’s criteria for having a Postpartum Mood Disorder (PMD).
  • Of the 30 percent of pregnant women affected by PMD, 1 out of 10 new mothers meet the criteria for a major depressive disorder.
  • Although few of them seek help, current estimates of spouses or partners who suffer from symptoms of depression range from 40-60 percent when the mother is experiencing PMD. Recent studies have shown that some fathers experience symptoms similar to PMD, even if the mother does not.
  • Untreated PMD can have a direct and long-lasting impact on the entire family. For example, the mother-child bond can be impaired, infant and early childhood development can be negatively affected by an unresponsive parent, or the relationship between the mother and her partner can become strained and negatively affect the entire family.
  • Postpartum Mood Disorders have no boundaries and have been identified in women from all cultures, age groups, races and income levels.

Pregnancy and childbirth are major life changes for women and their partners. The adjustment to new parenthood sometimes can be difficult. Irritability, anxiety and even sadness over changes in lifestyle can be expected as parents settle into a new routine of caring for an infant. However, if symptoms of depression or anxiety become overwhelming for a mother, or linger for longer than a week or two, the mother may have a Postpartum Mood Disorder.

What are Postpartum Mood Disorders?

Postpartum Mood Disorders fall under a wide spectrum of mood changes that can range from anxiety to depression and can include: uncontrollable crying, panic attacks, feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, having disturbing worries or intrusive thoughts of harm to one’s self or baby.

Symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorders can occur within a few days of delivery or anytime in the first year postpartum.

A mother’s change in mood can happen immediately after coming home with a new baby, after a few weeks of disturbed sleep patterns, or after other big life changes, such as returning to work or weaning the baby from breastfeeding.  Some women notice symptoms before they even leave the hospital.

Women who describe themselves as having a hard time with change and liking routines sometimes have a harder time adjusting to being a new parent and may be more likely to develop symptoms.  Mothers who are breastfeeding sometimes notice onset when they begin to wean the baby.

Whatever form of postpartum anxiety or depression the mother is suffering from, it often leads to feelings of shame, guilt and isolation.

Getting help as quickly as possible is important for mothers in distress – Postpartum Mood Disorders respond well to prompt treatment.

What are the symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorders?

Postpartum Mood Disorders are highly treatable and often resolve quickly once treatment is started. Please tell your doctor if you or someone you know are experiencing any of the following symptoms, and contact Moms Supporting Moms for peer and social support:

– Feeling hopeless or helpless
– Sleep problems (cannot sleep or sleeping too much)
– Extreme irritability
– No appetite or eating too much
– Excessive worry
– Anxiety
– Uncomfortable or intrusive thoughts
– Unable to concentrate on or cope with daily routines
– Lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
– Extreme fatigue
– Restlessness and/or agitation
– Panic attacks
– Irrational fear of certain objects that may harm the baby, such as knives, germs, or water
– Lack of interest in the baby or avoidance of caring for the infant
– Feeling disconnected emotionally from the baby or family

It is important to remember that:

– You are not alone
– You will get better
– It is not your fault

*Extreme symptoms that require immediate medical attention include hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, or delusional thoughts that may include a need to hurt the baby. Often, it is a spouse, family member or caregiver who notices these changes in the mother. Called postpartum psychosis, this is an extremely rare event that occurs in less than 1% of new mothers. It is not to be confused with a postpartum mood disorder. If you or someone you know is suffering from these symptoms, call 911 or take the mother to the emergency room immediately for help.

What are the Baby Blues?

The Baby Blues affect up to 80 percent of women after childbirth and usually are characterized by mild symptoms, such as feeling overly emotional, some crying, impatience, irritability and mild anxiety. The baby blues come on quickly, often in the first week, and disappear just as quickly, typically within a week or two.

Postpartum Mood Disorders don’t resolve as quickly and most often require the involvement of medical professionals. The duration of the mother’s distress often is the  most significant difference between the Baby Blues and PMD.

What is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum Psychosis is an extremely rare but very serious complication.  Only about 1 out of 1000 mothers develop psychosis, and it usually is a family member or friend, not the mother, who realizes something is wrong.

Unlike Postpartum Mood Disorders that can come on gradually, change in mood and personality from psychosis usually happens immediately. A mother with psychosis may have most of the symptoms of postpartum depression but also seem disconnected from reality and will suffer from one or more of the following:

– Severe insomnia (cannot sleep)
– Agitation
– Unusual behavior or feelings
– Hallucinations and/or delusions
– Irrationality

Postpartum psychosis is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Please call 911 immediately or take the mother to the emergency room for help.

What causes Postpartum Mood Disorders?

The exact cause is not known. It is believed to be triggered by a variety of factors, and it can be different for each woman. Hormonal changes and an individual’s response to these changes are believed to be one cause, while high stress levels, isolation or lack of social support, previous history of mental illness, predisposition to anxiety and the effects of sleep deprivation are other factors.

Women who experience Postpartum Mood Disorders are more likely to experience them again in subsequent pregnancies, and their symptoms may become progressively worse in each pregnancy, particularly if they are left untreated.

How many women are affected by Postpartum Mood Disorders?

Approximately 30 percent of new mothers experience symptoms of prenatal or postpartum depression and/or anxiety.

Who is affected by Postpartum Mood Disorders?

Postpartum illnesses cross all cultural and social lines. Anyone can develop symptoms. Symptoms may begin during pregnancy, increasing the risk for further mood complications after delivery. Other risk factors include previous or family history of depression, traumatic birth experience (such as emergency C-Section), miscarriage, sudden life changes beyond the pregnancy (for example, recent move, financial worries, problems with close relationships, decision to leave or return to work) or a terminated pregnancy.