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December 2020

Postpartum Depression vs. Postpartum Anxiety: Know the Difference

Being a new mom is exciting, but it can also be stressful. You’re adjusting to a major change in your life. Meanwhile, your hormones are in flux, and you may be seriously sleep-deprived. It’s understandable if you occasionally feel a little blue or anxious.

For most women, these feelings are mild and short-lived. For some, however, they turn into a full-blown mental health disorder that drains the joy from parenting. You’ve probably heard of postpartum depression (PPD)—serious, long-lasting depression that starts after giving birth. What you might not know is that postpartum anxiety (PPA) is just as common and disabling.

Fortunately, these conditions can be treated with talk therapy, medication, or both. But first, you need to recognize when you have a problem. Here’s what to watch for and how to tell the difference between the two.

PPD: More than baby blues

It’s not uncommon to feel a bit blue for a few days after giving birth. But if your sad or empty feelings linger, and if they interfere with your day-to-day life, you may have PPD. This condition can start anytime in the first year after having a baby, but it typically begins 1 to 3 weeks after childbirth. It affects 1 in 9 new moms.

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed

  • Losing interest in things you once enjoyed

  • Being uninterested in your baby

  • Lacking energy or motivation

  • Having trouble paying attention or making decisions

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Withdrawing from other people

  • Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby

If you have these symptoms, tell a loved one and contact your healthcare provider. When PPD isn’t treated, it can get in the way of caring for and bonding with your baby. This can put your child at risk for language delays and behavioral problems down the line.

PPA: Out-of-control worries

Many new moms have concerns about handling the responsibilities of parenthood. But if your worries become hard to control, and if they start causing problems in your daily life, you may have PPA. This condition gets less attention than PPD, and it hasn’t been studied nearly as much. Yet it’s estimated to affect up to 20% of new mothers.

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Worrying excessively about a variety of things; for example, you might worry incessantly about your baby’s well-being, your parenting ability, and your finances

  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or irritable

  • Having stress-related physical symptoms, such as muscle tension or an upset stomach

  • Being unable to concentrate or feeling as if your mind has gone blank

If you have these symptoms, reach out for help. Untreated PPA has been linked to increased fatigue, lower self-confidence, and a poor body image in mothers. In babies, it may have a negative impact on mental and social development.

What these conditions have in common

Some women feel guilty about being anxious or depressed when they expected to feel blissful. But having PPD or PPA doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. It just means you have a common disorder, which luckily is very treatable.


Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/19/2020
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