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Postpartum Mood Disorders

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Giving birth to a baby is a wonderful experience. It is a joyful world, where a newborn brings home new hope. However, the reality is far different from the cooing world of having a baby. It is a hard time for the mother to adjust to the new life and routine. Pregnancy as well as the physical, emotional and social changes tend to overwhelm the new mother. It does not matter whether it is your first child or second, 80% of moms tend to experience ‘Baby Blues’. Even adoptive parents can experience mood disorders during the postpartum period.

Postpartum mood disorders (PPMD) is a severe and diverse condition that is different from baby blues. This disorder can cause problems with the family bonding and interrupt the bonding process between the mother and baby. These symptoms can appear as late as after a year of giving birth. Or they can crop up when the mother returns to her normal menstruation cycle or starts weaning the baby off breast milk.


Studies show 1 in every 8 women suffers from postpartum mood disorders. They affect women of every culture, race, age as well as income level. The conditions that come under postpartum mood disorders includes:

  • Postpartum depression – A woman may experience a sense of anger, irritability, guilt, sadness, loss of interest in the baby, problems concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, changes in eating habits, sleep disturbances, as well as feelings of harming oneself or even the baby after giving birth.
  • Postpartum anxiety – Women with PPA suffer from feelings of extreme worries and fear for the safety of their baby. They may even develop panic attacks and may show signs of shortness of breath, chest pain, feeling of loss of control, numbness, tingling, etc.
  • Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder – A mother with PPOCD tends to have very scary images or thoughts that are repetitive in nature. These mental images are related to accidents, abuse or any harm to the baby. They will tend to put away knifes, scissors, etc. away in order to protect the baby. The mother turns hypervigilant and may find it difficult to sleep out of fear something will happen to the baby.
  • Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD) – This is often caused after the woman experiences a traumatic and frightening childbirth. This trauma causes the woman to experience the trauma or its flashback out of anxiety. This problem is usually temporary and can be easily treated with medical help.
  • Postpartum psychosis – Mother with postpartum psychosis develop hallucinations and hear or see voices or images that do not exist. They develop strange beliefs and delusions. Their paranoia increases and suffer from rapid mood swings. These mothers have a suicide rate of 5% and the infanticide rate of 4%. They break off from reality and believe the horrid thoughts and images from their hallucinations. Such women need immediate help and treatment. Most of the time they never harm themselves or the baby. But the risk is always there and thus, they need to be monitored and treated by a professional.


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Postpartum mood disorders symptoms may look something like the following:

  • You may tell your close ones that you are feeling absolutely great. And this is said so convincingly, that they believe you. You will wake up on time, get into the perfect body shape after pregnancy, keep the house clean and the baby in the best condition. But inside, you may feel as a totally different person.
  • You may feel as if you don’t feel like taking care of yourself, your baby or anyone around you. All you feel like doing is keeping your head on the pillow and lay down.
  • You find it difficult to bond with the baby. You feel you are not capable to take care of the baby. You want to pass on the care of the baby’s father or other family members.
  • You keep worrying about the baby’s health and safety. You cannot enjoy each day with the baby as you are preoccupied about the baby’s diaper, breathing, feeding, etc.
  • You feel angry all the time. Every little thing irritates you. Friends, family, baby all makes you angry and irritable.
  • Hopelessness and frustration creep inside you
  • You may feel high one moment and you may cry your heart out the next.
  • Feeling of overwhelms takes over and you cannot concentrate on anything.
  • You feel ashamed and guilty about yourself and feel you are not a good mother.
  • You get repeated thoughts and images that are scary related to the baby. At times, you feel like harming yourself or the baby.


Postpartum mood disorders can affect mothers as well as fathers. It is related to disorders that include anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. that can occur in a woman during pregnancy or after the birth of a child. In case of men, this disorder can creep in before or after the baby is born as some men experience emotional difficulty.

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All women are susceptible to PPMD. However, some of the risk factors that increase the chances of developing this condition include:

  • Depression during pregnancy
  • Anxiety during pregnancy
  • Stressful life
  • Personal history or family history of mental illness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor relationship with partner or family members
  • Lack of support during the entire pregnancy and post-pregnancy period
  • Person with a negative thinking style


If one suffers from a deep sense of sadness for more than 2 weeks, they need to seek help immediately. As the exact mechanism of PPMD is not known, experts blame it on the hormones like progesterone and estrogen. These hormones drop after the baby is born and they interact with serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for one’s mood. Thus, one should seek help, especially if they have a personal history of depression or premenstrual syndrome to get treatment for postpartum mood disorder.


The first step for treating postpartum mood disorder is seeking help and following the line of treatment suggested. A woman with PPMD is advised to join a support group comprising of women who are experiencing similar problems. These groups are led by experts and volunteers who listen, understand and help the women with their problems.

Some are advised psychotherapy or ‘talk therapy’. Here, the woman speaks about her depression, mood swings, etc. to the therapists who in turn helps her manage these feelings and cope up with the problems.

Medications such as antidepressants are advised to treat the depression, anxiety, panic attacks, scary thoughts as well as sleep disturbances. Speak to your doctor before taking these medications and ask if they are safe while breastfeeding.

Build a strong social support system to help you overcome the situation. Visit friends, family, parks, etc. where you can meet women and parents who will be able to guide you through their personal experiences.

Postpartum mood disorders can lead to a difficult time for the mother. The challenges faced after the arrival of a newborn can tend to be overwhelming for a new mother as well as women who have given birth before. It is very important to keep in mind, there is no such thing as a perfect baby, perfect mother or perfect parent. Do as much as you can and never compare yourself or your baby with others. Share the responsibilities with your partner or other family members. Do as much as you can and leave out the nonessential things. You cannot do it all and take care of the baby. Prioritize things in your life and work  accordingly. Seek help the minute you feel you are going into a depression. Early treatment will be good for not just your health, but will be beneficial to your baby and family.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 07, 2015

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