Being pregnant is pretty much synonymous with being terrified. For me, the months I was pregnant with my daughter were wrought with insecurities and worries, but not about pregnancy or even motherhood — I was really nervous about postpartum depression, or PPD. I have a tendency to create enormous expectations for myself and, when they fall flat, I'm devastated. I also fully expected myself to become overwhelmed and emotional and, honestly, I spent a lot of my pregnancy researching how to tell if you have PPD so I could be prepared in the best possible way.
Although I didn't suffer from PPD, I stayed on the lookout for symptoms, especially after those first two grueling weeks. The baby blues sound innocent enough, but I was so miserable and sad that it felt like I could slip into PPD at any moment. But, just like all the experts told me, at two weeks postpartum, I felt like my old self again. In fact, my daughter's pediatrician spent a few minutes talking to me at her 2-week check-up and said, "You sound really good. You seem like you feel great." I did, and I was glad that his seemingly pointless questions were actually part of a bigger picture — to screen me for PPD.
But not everybody has the same understanding doctor, nor does every doctor have the same consistency in screening patients for PPD. Not every mom knows what to look for, how it differentiates from their standard feelings of being overwhelmed, or how it varies from the baby blues. With such a huge stigma against mental illness, and PPD in particular, some new parents may be unsure of how to navigate their feelings or ask for help with a possible diagnosis. So how can you tell if you have PPD?
It seems like the most obvious answer is to talk to your doctor, but for many new moms, that doesn't always feel possible. Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Women’s Mood Disorders at UNC Chapel Hill, tells Romper in a phone interview that the stigma against PPD is huge and often terrifying for parents. "There is such shame around it," she says. "Moms are supposed to be in a happy time, so it's hard to admit they're struggling, and it's not talked about — so no one understands how common it is." Which is exactly why Meltzer-Brody helped co-found an app, PPD ACT, which aims to screen women for postpartum depression from the comfort of their own smartphone.
"Women have a chance to be screened, receive feedback about their symptoms and the severity of them, and the chance to be hooked in with resources," she says of the app. "And then they have the chance to contribute to our understanding of what causes PPD, such as genetic contributions and the economic burden." Meltzer-Brody adds that this research can help make policy changes for treatments, PPD screenings, and how the world views women's mental health and PPD. Beyond the app, she says some moms may be asked to send in saliva samples in a DNA kit to help researchers pinpoint genetic differences in women with PPD.
According to Meltzer-Brody, the fact that PPD isn't really talked about is horrific — one in eight women are affected by PPD, she says — and despite how common it is, screening for PPD is still intermittent and inconsistent, leaving many moms confused and overwhelmed.
So how can you tell if you have PPD? How can you separate it from the standard feelings of new motherhood and your hormonal changes? Luckily, there's hope out there with four different ways to tell if you have PPD, or if your feelings are being caused by something else.