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.
1. Your Feelings Interfere With Functioning
There's a big difference between the baby blues and PPD, and it could save you. Although the baby blues are rough, according to Meltzer-Brody, they don't interfere with you functioning. "The baby blues never completely interfere, but PPD is much more severe," she says. "It interferes with function, can include suicidal thoughts, and can impair mom's abilities." If your sadness or numbness seem to stop you from living your life or going about your day-to-day activities, it's time to ask for help.
2. Your Feelings Last Longer Than 2 Weeks
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the baby blues tend to resolve themselves after two weeks postpartum while PPD can last longer. I personally know this to be true — exactly two weeks after giving birth, I woke up feeling better than ever. Although that mark isn't always exact, if you notice that your feelings of sadness or depression seem to last beyond two weeks postpartum, carrying into a month or more, you should reach out to your healthcare provider.
3. Your Symptoms Are More Than Just Random Crying
Look, it's easy to get overwhelmed with motherhood, especially after you've just given birth. But the symptoms of PPD are much more severe than just your standard hormonal shift — they can be debilitating. Postpartum Progress noted that symptoms of PPD can include feeling overwhelmed to the point of regretting motherhood, thoughts of running away, sadness, hopelessness, numbness, insomnia, lack of appetite, irritated or angry, and confusion as to why you feel this way. Check your symptoms and tell someone what you're feeling — support is necessary.
4. You're Afraid To Talk To Other People About How You Feel
The stigma around PPD is huge. In fact, Postpartum Progress noted that many women don't tell their healthcare providers how they're feeling for fear that their baby will be taken away or that they will be judged. Meltzer-Brody suggests that her app, PPD ACT, can help moms discover if they're suffering from PPD without the shame or guilt attached to it so they can get the help they need. "The app really empowers women," she says. "It provides, for the first time, a chance to share their experience with a disease that is so stigmatized and often goes unrecognized. Now a mom with a smartphone can download the app for free, have a voice, and be empowered to take charge of her mental health, get the care she needs, and participate in research to move the field forward."
If you're interested in the PPD ACT app, you can download it on any smart phone for free. The app will evaluate your symptoms, including the severity of them, and will give you feedback on whether you're doing OK, if you should keep an eye on them, or if you should seek help soon. The app will also loop you into resources you can use to get the care and support you need, without the stigma attached, including healthcare providers in your area.