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Lehigh Valley Children's Hospital

Postpartum Depression

Learn about postpartum depression and how postpartum depression differs from the so-called "baby blues."

A combination of stress, lack of sleep and hormonal fluctuations can make new mothers vulnerable to anxiety and depression, and can affect even those who already have a child.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, baby blues affect up to 80 percent of all women who deliver. These feelings develop the first few days after delivery and are usually are gone by two weeks.

Postpartum depression (PPD) has symptoms very similar to those of the baby blues. However, unlike the baby blues, which go away in about two weeks, PPD symptoms continue and are more severe.

It is normal to feel overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious after giving birth to a baby, but these emotions should last two weeks or less. If you have “baby blues,” you may have the following short-term symptoms:                 

  • Mild depression
  • Tearfulness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased concentration

To help yourself recover, try to get as much rest as possible, even if you don’t sleep. Accept help when family or friends offer to clean your house, make meals or do laundry. Take a walk to get fresh air. Shower, wash your hair and put on clean clothes every day. Remind yourself that you will not always feel like this.

Postpartum depression is sometimes harder for patients and family members to recognize because its symptoms are very similar to those of the baby blues. However, unlike the baby blues, which go away in about two weeks, PPD symptoms continue and are more severe.

Signs of PPD include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Feeling inadequate, overwhelmed or unable to care for the baby
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or having failed as a mother

PPD occurs in 8 to 15 percent of women, yet its impact isn’t limited to the time period after delivering a baby: 27 percent of women with PPD develop it prior to pregnancy, 33 percent develop it during pregnancy and 40 percent develop it postpartum.

Diagnosis and next steps

At LVHN, each obstetric patient is first screened using the PHQ9 (Patient Health Questionnaire), which helps identify any type of depression. Then the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is used on a few different occasions postpartum. This short survey asks 10 questions about how you may have been feeling over the past week. It is given after delivery before you are discharged home, as well as at a postpartum doctor visit. It is sometimes used in pediatric offices when you take your baby to appointments.

PPD is treatable and is not a sign you do not love your child. For women diagnosed with PPD, treatment options include talk therapy (counseling), antidepressant medication or a combination approach.

If you think you might hurt your baby or yourself, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.