Frequently Asked Questions About Postpartum Depression & Related Illnesses

about postpartum depressionFollowing are some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) we receive about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, postpartum panic, postpartum PTSD, postpartum bipolar, postpartum psychosis and anxiety and depression during pregnancy.

We know you are probably tired and miserable, and this is quite a long section, but moms (and dads) tend to have many, many questions about these illnesses and we wanted to address as many of them as possible. If you keep scrolling, you are very likely to find exactly the information you’re looking for.  

What is postpartum depression? What are perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and what are the different kinds?

Many women don’t know that postpartum depression is only one in a wider spectrum of perinatal mental illnesses. (The word “perinatal,” by the way, means during pregnancy and after birth, so perinatal mental illnesses are those that happen any time during pregnancy or the first year postpartum.) Not everyone experiences the deep sadness and disconnection of postpartum depression.

Here is a list of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders we think you should know about:

  1. Postpartum Depression can feature appetite and sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, lack of interest in the baby, irritation or anger or rage, withdrawal from interacting with others, sadness and crying, the constant feeling of being overwhelmed, and/or possible thoughts of harming oneself or running away and escaping.
  2. Antenatal Depression has symptoms similar to PPD but instead occurs during pregnancy.
  3. Postpartum Anxiety is marked by excessive worries and fears that are often centered on the baby, difficulty sleeping or eating, and sometimes physical symptoms like diarrhea, headaches or nausea. There is some discussion in the medical world that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are actually one in the same illness, and that some moms may have more depression-like symptoms while others’ experience of PPD is more filled with worry, fear and anxiety.
  4. Postpartum OCD is characterized by obsessions – scary intrusive thoughts or mental images that come into your head that you don’t not want that are often related to harm coming to your baby – and compulsions – doing things over and over to reduce the fears and obsessions like cleaning or counting.
  5. Postpartum Panic Disorder involves recurring panic attacks, which can include shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations and numbness or tingling in the extremities.  Some women having panic attacks feel like they’re having a heart attack.
  6. Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, usually brought on by a traumatic childbirth (or the perception of one), is similar to other forms of PTSD in that sufferers re-experience the trauma they experienced in thoughts and nightmares.
  7. Postpartum Psychosis is a rare and dangerous illness that is considered a psychiatric emergency and features delusions and/or hallucinations and mania.
  8. Bipolar, peripartum onset (also known as postpartum bipolar disorder) include symptoms like hypomania and mania, which includes pressurized/rapid speech, grandiose thinking, little need for sleep, agitation and/or depression. If you have these symptoms you should call your doctor immediately due to the potential rapid cycling of bipolar disorder.

What are the specific symptoms of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD?  How do I know if I have one of them?

There are many different symptoms and you may have only some of them.  These are not one-size-fits-all illnesses – every mom is an individual.  Read The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (In Plain Mama English), which will give you a full list of possible symptoms.   If you have some of the symptoms listed, and have had them for two weeks or more, call your doctor.  What you are going through is temporary and treatable with professional help. This can be fixed.

How many women get postpartum depression?

Recent research has found that 15% of new moms get postpartum depression, or one in seven.  We know, however, that in women of low socioeconomic status the rate jumps to 25%.  Since approximately 4 million babies are born each year, that would mean at least 600,000 women in the U.S. have PPD annually. We would argue that number is even higher, because there are 6 million clinically recognized pregnancies each year (including live births and pregnancy losses) and we know that women who’ve suffered miscarriages are also at risk of PPD. This means it’s more likely that more than 800,000 women a year get PPD.

What is the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression?

Baby blues is a normal adjustment period that happens during the first two weeks after the birth of your baby.  It is not an illness, and lots of women go through it.  It goes away on its own, and doesn’t require help from a doctor.  If you are past the first two weeks postpartum and you have symptoms of postpartum depression (or anxiety or OCD or psychosis or PTSD) and they are preventing you from functioning as you would like each day, you should reach out to your doctor. For an even better explanation, read What’s the Difference Between Postpartum Depression and Normal New Mom Stress? If you think you have PPD, don’t panic because it is fully treatable. Really. Call your doctor!!

Can you get postpartum depression or anxiety much later after the birth of your child?  What if you get it when you are six months postpartum, or ten?

Postpartum depression can occur any time in the first 12 months after birth.  If your doctor says you can only get postpartum depression in the first few weeks or months after birth, he or she is wrong. For more on this, read Does Postpartum Depression Only Occur in the Weeks After Baby is Born?  Also, you can get PPD with any child, regardless of whether it is your first or fifth or somewhere in between.

I don’t feel bonded or attached to my baby. Am I a horrible mom?  

NO, you are not a bad mom. Absolutely not! It is a common experience among moms with perinatal mental illness to feel disconnected to their babies and to worry about bonding. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with guilt about this, but you can and will develop attachments to your baby. The most important thing you can do is get help for your illness as soon as possible so that you can fully recover. Here are some things you should know about PPD and bonding:

Love in the Time of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression and the Feeling of Feeling Nothing for Your Baby

8 Ways to Be A Good Mother Instead of A Perfect One

I’m having very scary, upsetting thoughts about hurting my baby – “what if?” kinds of thoughts. I recognize these thoughts are wrong, I don’t ever want to do anything to harm my baby and I don’t want these thoughts in my head but they keep coming anyway. Does this mean I’m a monster?

You are not a monster. Those are intrusive thoughts and they are a common symptom among women with postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD. Talk to your doctor about getting treatment for them, and for more information check out Hope for Moms With OCD & Intrusive Thoughts. 

Where should I go to get help and support for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, pregnancy depression or any other types of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

First, we’d suggest you check our list of postpartum depression treatment specialists and postpartum depression support groups. Check to see if there is a PPD support organization in your state dedicated to helping moms with maternal mental illness – they are usually in the best position to know all the local resources available to you.

You can also check the Postpartum Support International website or call PSI at 1-800-944-4PPD.  They have coordinators in most of the U.S. states as well as many countries around the world.  Find out who your coordinator is and call or email them to get information on how to get help in your area.

By the way, we KNOW it sucks to ask for help — 5 Reasons Why Asking for Help Sucks — but we want you to do it anyway. Getting help is the right thing to do for both you and your baby.

How long does it take to recover from postpartum depression?

There is no specific timetable for getting better and you’ll only frustrate yourself if you create one or compare yourself to others.  As long as you are working closely with an effective healthcare provider you will get better. Please be patient with yourself!! There are a few things, though, that can impact the length of your recovery.  To learn about them, read Six Things That Can Affect How Quickly You’ll Recover from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Also, please check out What Postpartum Depression Recovery DOES NOT Look Like.

Do I have to take medication to be treated for postpartum depression or anxiety?

No.  There are a variety of treatments for PPD, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, etc, including therapy and/or medication.  You should work with your doctor to identify the best treatment options for you, and then be open to trying other things if the methods you choose don’t work.  For more on medication, read Your Questions Answered About Medication for Postpartum Depression. For more on therapy, read How does Psychotherapy for Postpartum Depression Work Anyway? For more on treatments outside of traditional medication and therapy, read The Best Alternative Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. Please know that current research finds that alternative or natural methods of treatment are not effective as the first-line (or only) treatment for moms with moderate to severe PPD.

Who gets postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety and why?

First of all, anyone can get these illnesses. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how talented you are, how strong you are, how successful you are, where you live, how religious you are, how tough you are, how much money you make or how happy (or not) your life has been up until now.

There are many risk factors.  What leads one woman to end up with postpartum depression or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder may not be what leads someone else to get it.  Risk factors are things that make it more likely that you will get an illness as compared to someone else. The risk factors for PPD and related illnesses include, but are not limited to:

* A history of depression or anxiety in you or your family members

* A previous experience with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like PPD

Treatment for infertility

Childhood Trauma

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Problems with your thyroid

Mothers of multiples

* Teen moms

* If you have diabetes (type 1, 2 or gestational)

History of physical or sexual abuse

Poverty/Low Income women

Military wives

A perfectionist personality

* An unplanned pregnancy

* Traumatic childbirth

* A previous miscarriage

* A fear of childbirth

* A recent major stressor such as a house move, job loss, job change, etc.

What are the symptoms of postpartum psychosis?

Read The Symptoms of Postpartum Psychosis (In Plain Mama English)Please know that if you have these symptoms (or someone you know has them) you should reach out to your doctor immediately, because this illness can lead women to do dangerous things they wouldn’t normally do.  If you can’t reach your doctor, you can also go to the emergency room or call 911. It’s important to be somewhere where you are safe and medical professionals can help you get stabilized. Again, you may only have some of these symptoms and not all of them. Postpartum psychosis is temporary and fully treatable with professional help.

What are the risk factors for postpartum psychosis?

The number one risk factor for postpartum psychosis is bipolar disorder or a previous history of psychotic episodes in yourself or your family. Many women who get postpartum psychosis actually find out for the first time that they are bipolar.

I’m concerned that I might hurt myself or others. Can you help me?

Postpartum Progress does not have a crisis hotline and does not handle emergencies. If your needs are urgent, or if you fear that you may harm yourself, your baby or others you need to immediately call your healthcare provider, dial 911, go to the nearest hospital emergency room or contact a qualified crisis line, such as the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK.

I’m a dad or partner.  How do I help someone going through PPD?

First, don’t panic. What your wife or partner is going through is a common illness.  She will get back to the person you know, with your support and patience. Visit our dad stories to read about the experiences of other dads just like you who have gone through PPD with their wives.

You should also visit the PSI website to see a cool video of other dads who’ve been through this.  And get info on PSI’s special, free weekly conference call for dads hereWe’d also recommend checking out Karen Kleiman’s book “The Postpartum Husband.”

The most important thing is to be 100% supportive. Let her know that you believe in her, and help her follow through on her doctor’s recommendations.

Is there such a thing as depression or anxiety during pregnancy?  Like postpartum depression, but while I’m pregnant?

Absolutely.  It’s called antenatal depression, or pregnancy depression, and it’s thought to be just as common as postpartum depression. If you’re feeling like no one else in the world has this but you, check out these stories from moms who’ve been through it:

On How It Feels to Be Depressed During Pregnancy

The Black Hole of Antenatal Depression

On Being Depressed & Pregnant

Robbed of the Joy of Pregnancy

Can you get postpartum depression after a miscarriage?

You can certainly experience grief after miscarriage and also depression after a perinatal loss. If you have had a miscarriage or stillbirth, first let us say we are truly sorry for your loss and we hope our resources give you some comfort.  Here are some specific resources we created just for you:

Postpartum Depression After Miscarriage or Stillbirth

What is the Difference Between Grief and Depression After Pregnancy Loss?

The Blurred Lines Between Postpartum Depression & Grief After A Loss

Can you get postpartum depression or anxiety after adopting a baby or child?

Yes.  For more on post-adoption depression and some specific resources we’ve put together for you, read:

Post-Adoption Depression: Adoptive Mothers Need Not Suffer in Silence

Post-Adoption Depression: What Stopped This Mom From Leaving Her Baby At Target.

Can you breastfeed during postpartum depression? Should you? Do I need to quit?

Breastfeeding and depression is such a big issue for moms with PPD!  Some want to quit because they have difficulties with it or because it causes them too much stress, but they don’t stop because they feel pushed by others to keep going.  Others don’t reach out for professional help with their illness because they fear they will be made to quit when breastfeeding is the only thing that helps them feel bonded to their babies.  You need to know that you can and should do what is right for YOU, and that you can receive treatment and continue breastfeeding. You should also feel free to stop if you need to — you have options.  We support you no matter what you do.  Here are some stories you may find helpful:

From Boob to Bottle: Postpartum Depression & The Unnecessary Shame of Quitting Breastfeeding

Sleep Management, Breastfeeding & Postpartum Depression

Breastfeeding & Postpartum Depression: What Should Moms Do? 

Letting Go of the Guilt About Not Breastfeeding

Can I be treated with medication for my perinatal mood or anxiety and still keep breastfeeding?

Yes. Some doctors may even tell you that you can’t, but they are completely incorrect and uninformed. Read Which Psychiatric Medications are Safe During Breastfeeding?   Recent research finds that women with depression or anxiety may be able to breastfeed longer, in fact, if they are treated for their illness.

What if I only feel bad (depressed, sad, anxious) right before or during breastfeeding but I feel perfectly fine at all other times?

You may have something called dysphoric milk-ejection reflex or DMER.  For more on this, read For Moms Who Feel Bad Before Breastfeeding, This May Be Why.

Is it normal to have setbacks?  I was doing really well and then I slipped backwards.  I’m worried I’m never going to get better.

It’s VERY common to have setbacks.  We probably hear about this more than any other issue related to recovery.  Many women experience periods of feeling better only to slide backwards a bit.  That’s all part of the recovery process, so don’t give up! Even during a setback you’re still on your way to a full recovery. Read these stories to help understand setbacks and how to get past them:

How Recovery from Postpartum Depression is like Playing Chutes & Ladders

Postpartum Depression & Anxiety: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

What if I don’t have health insurance or mental health coverage, or I don’t have enough money to pay my deductible?

You still have options. Read How to Get Help for Postpartum Depression if You Have No Insurance (or Not Enough Money).

What if I reach out to a local psychiatrist or therapist and they can’t get me into their schedule for several weeks or even months?

We just can’t think of anything worse than finally getting up the courage to ask for help and then being told you’ll have to wait.  There are some things you can do to try and get help sooner.  Read Told It’s a 5-Month Wait to See A Psychiatrist?: What to Do Next To Get Help.

What if I my illness becomes severe and I need emergency child care?

Visit our resource guide to find a crisis center near you: Child care services for moms with fewer resources

Can I get extra time off from work if I’m still trying to recover from postpartum depression when my maternity leave ends?

It’s possible, depending upon where you work and how much time you’ve already taken off.  Read Can You or Your Husband Access FMLA If Needed For Postpartum Depression?

Does postpartum depression affect children?

The important thing to know about postpartum depression is that the sooner you get professional help, the less potential your illness has to affect your children (or you) negatively over the long term. Research shows that the children of moms who do not get treatment for PPD are more likely to have problems in school, substance abuse issues and future psychiatric illness themselves. As we’ve said before, getting help is a gift to both you and your child. For more on this, read:

Have I Wrecked My Child’s Life? Parenting After Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

What Have I Wrought?: Postpartum Depression’s Impact On Our Children

My Postpartum OCD Baby Grows Up, While I Have An Anxiety Attack.

Does postpartum depression go away on its own? What could happen if I choose not to get professional help?

If you ignore PPD it could end up turning into chronic major depression for the rest of your life.  It also has the potential to affect your child’s cognitive and behavioral development and his or her future mental health. This is why it is not a good idea to try and wait until PPD goes away on its own. There are a variety of effective treatments from which you can choose that will help you recover. Getting help is so important.

You might also be interested in What Makes Moms With Postpartum Depression Finally Reach Out for Help?

Can (or should) I have another child after experiencing a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder?

Yes you definitely can, but only you can decide whether you should.  I did.  Others don’t.  Either decision is perfectly okay.  Read:

To Have or Have Not: Should You Stop Having Children If You’ve Had Postpartum Depression.

Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Survivors: This Valentine’s For You

Plus, here’s a 5-part series we did with seven moms who went through postpartum depression and anxiety on how they made the decision to have another child and what happened to them:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Will I get postpartum depression or anxiety or psychosis again?

You could.  You have a 50% higher risk than the average mom of experiencing one of these illnesses if you’ve had it before.  But it is not a certainty that you will get it, and if you do it won’t be the shock that it was before because you will understand what is happening to you and you will know that there are ways to get through it.  If you’ve had a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder in the past, be sure to tell your OB/GYN and make sure that you have a team in place (your OB, your family, your psychiatrist or therapist) ready to support you and provide whatever help is needed, should you need it.  Plus, the Warrior Moms of Postpartum Progress are here for you!

How do I start a support group for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

First, it’s best to wait until you’ve fully recovered and given yourself plenty of time to heal before you consider taking on the responsibility of creating a support group to help others.  Once you are ready, please check out the following:

How to Create & Sustain A Postpartum Support Group, Part 3

How To Create & Sustain A Postpartum Support Group, Part 2

How to Create & Sustain A Postpartum Support Group, Part 1

Why did Katherine Stone start Postpartum Progress?

Katherine had postpartum OCD with the birth of her son, her first child, in 2001.  She felt alone and miserable when she went through it, and didn’t know where to go to get help.  She didn’t want others to have the same experience so she created Postpartum Progress in July of 2004.  To read more about her story, you might check out Tragedy & Misery Intertwined: 9/11 and the Birth of My Postpartum OCD and My Story In Newsweek.



Note: No page or post at Postpartum Progress may be reproduced or disseminated without advanced  permission.   

The content of this page serves to provide social support and information. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychological condition. Please consult your health care provider for individual advice regarding your own situation.