Recognizing Signs of Postpartum Depression in a Friend

Do you have a friend who recently gave birth and shows unusual changes in behavior? Perhaps you suspect she has Postpartum Depression (PPD), but you’re not sure what the signs are. PPD is a common and disabling mental condition that can affect one in seven women, within a year of giving birth. This type of depression is more than just the “baby blues” that goes away on its own within days.

By understanding PPD, you can help your friend take steps to manage the symptoms or get professional help and support.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression, or postnatal depression, is a type of depression women experience after giving birth. Symptoms are triggered by physical, emotional, mental, and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Unlike the temporary symptoms of “baby blues,” such as tiredness, sadness, or worry, PPD symptoms persist and interfere with normal daily functioning.

What Puts Moms at Risk of PPD?

The first three months of giving birth are the toughest. Round-the-clock feedings, diapering, bonding with your baby, and chores leave new moms depleted and exhausted. Being worn out physically, mentally, and emotionally can affect their ability to cope, putting them at risk of PPD. Other factors include:

Postnatal Depression Effects on Mother and Child

Doctors are deeply concerned about mothers experiencing depression since the health and well-being of mother and child are at risk. Mothers affected by depression often neglect their needs and the needs of the child. They often experience lower self-esteem, anxiety, anger, and low relationship satisfaction.

Infant neglect affects the child’s physical and mental health and development. According to a publication by Oxford Academic Pediatrics and Child Health, a neglected infant is more likely to develop insecure attachment and dysregulated attention and arousal.

Early Warning Signs of Postpartum Depression

Moms and their family members may miss these warning signs:

  • Mom’s “baby blues” aren’t getting better
  • She frequently cries or feels sad or down
  • She has trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • She loses interest in social activities
  • Mom shows changes in sleep patterns, like insomnia or oversleeping
  • She says she’s not a good mom or regrets having the baby

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Does your friend appear to be happy with motherhood one moment, only to break down and cry excessively the next? These behaviors are indicators of PPD. Look out for these other physical, emotional, mental, or behavioral symptoms and signs your friend may be experiencing postnatal depression:

  • Neglect: Does your friend suddenly lack interest in caring for herself or the baby? Does your neat-freak friend leave chores undone or dishes and laundry to pile up? 
  • Avoidance: Is your friend avoiding family and friends without explanation? Does she avoid bonding with or spending time with her baby? Are diapers left unchanged or bottles left empty? These could be signs that your friend is struggling with postpartum depression. 
  • Emotional or behavioral changes: Displaying severe or uncontrollable mood swings or behaviors, including angry outbursts, hostility, or aggressiveness could be a sign that something is wrong with the new mother.
  • Negative self-talk: Your friend may regularly say she feels ashamed, guilty, or like a failure. She may admit to feeling helpless, hopeless, or wanting to give up.
  • Harmful thoughts: Your friend may say she has thoughts of harming herself or the baby
  • Anxiety symptoms: Constant worrying, panic, irritability, restlessness, or feeling something terrible is about to happen.

Symptoms and signs can show up within 2-4 weeks of giving birth or months later. They might last up to a year in some cases. Regardless of how long PPD symptoms last, trouble coping can lead to other issues, such as medication misuse, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). 

How to Help Someone with Postnatal Depression

There are several ways you can help and support your friend during this mental health crisis. The goal is to get her to take steps to manage the symptoms and recover. But first, be careful to broach the topic in a way that makes her comfortable sharing how she feels. She may divulge information or symptoms that are not obvious to a layperson. You can then provide support by:

  • Telling your friend you’ve noticed some PPD signs
  • Actively listening while remaining compassionate and non-judgmental
  • Assuring her that PPD affects many moms but is treatable
  • Reassuring her that she’s strong and resilient and can get through this with the right help
  • Explaining the importance of treatment and encouraging her to seek help if she feels unable to cope on her own
  • Encouraging her to seek emergency care if she has severe symptoms or thoughts of harming herself or her baby
  • Asking her to consider self-care, e.g., eating healthy, exercising, taking a break, getting quality sleep, and staying socially connected
  • Offering your help and reassuring your friend that you’re there for her
  • Supporting her decision but being ready to seek professional help on her behalf

External Resources

There are a variety of organizations and hotlines that are set up to help people with depression can link mothers to help resources, including these:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)/National Helpline 800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Postpartum Support International (PSI) (Call 800-944-4733)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Call 800-273-8255)
  • American Psychological Association (APA) Crisis Help Center

Treatment for PPD

PPD is a complex illness that needs to be properly diagnosed through a medical and psychiatric evaluation. Treatment includes anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication and mental health therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a traditional treatment that provides coping strategies to help mothers manage depression symptoms.

Self-care, taking advantage of available resources, and treatment help to shorten PPD duration.

The Takeaway

Postpartum depression can happen to any mom. Early detection and treatment help prevent the harmful consequences mother and child face. Luckily, your friend has you by her side. With treatment, coping strategies, and support from loved ones, she can begin to truly experience the joys of motherhood.

Sources – Postpartum Depression – A Guide to Managing Postpartum Depression (PPD) – Association Between Sleep Quality and Postpartum Depression – Postpartum Substance Use and Depressive Symptoms: A Review – Consequences of Maternal Postpartum Depression: A Systematic Review of Maternal and Infant Outcomes – Maternal Depression and Child Development – Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-harm, and Diagnoses in Postpartum Women With Screen-Positive Depression Findings – Postpartum psychosis – Postpartum Depression Resources for Mothers – Crisis Hotlines and Resources – Postpartum Depression: Coping, Support, and Living – How Long Does PPD/A Last?