Taking care of a newborn can be hard. You’re sleep deprived, tired, and probably feeling anxious from personal and social expectations on what comes next.

This is natural. In fact, it’s how most people feel after welcoming a baby. So, why do you sense there’s something else going on?

You cry often and without an apparent reason. You’re more irritable than usual, and sometimes you even feel like getting away from everyone — including your baby.

And then, there’s the sudden guilt for feeling this way.

Yes, something else might be going on: postpartum depression.

Rest assured, you didn’t do anything to cause this. It’s your body and mind putting a filter on how you see yourself, the world, and your baby. But, with help, that filter can be lifted.

A good first step is understanding what postpartum depression is. An important follow-up is opening up about your symptoms with family, friends, and healthcare professionals.

You’ve finally got this precious baby that you’ve been expecting for so long. Yet, when you look at them, you don’t feel joy, like everyone expects you to — like you expected to.

Instead, you feel immensely sad and even angry. Sometimes, you may even feel disinterested.

You might look at your baby and feel… nothing. Then you start believing there might be something wrong with you, and this makes you feel worse.

In reality, this isn’t who you are, and it’s not a reflection of you as a person or as a parent.

Instead, this is postpartum depression. It’s a mental health condition that’s affecting how you think, feel, and behave.

A combination of factors — most of them out of your control — have caused you to feel this way.

In other words, postpartum depression isn’t the result of a character flaw, weakness, or lack of ability to raise a child.

In fact, postpartum depression symptoms reportedly affect 1 in 8 people who have given birth.

The condition can impact all races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In some instances, other parents and caregivers who haven’t given birth also experience postpartum depression symptoms.

Symptoms of postpartum depression typically appear within 4 weeks after childbirth. In some instances, they can also come on fast, even within the first 72 hours.

In other cases, some symptoms might not appear until 6 months later or even up to a year after delivery. This can sometimes make it difficult to identify as postpartum depression.

Sometimes postpartum depression isn’t evident after your first birth but could develop after future pregnancies. Postpartum depression seems to resolve for other people in a few months, but if left untreated, symptoms can come back.

It’s not uncommon to feel shame or guilt for experiencing postpartum depression — but the fact is that this isn’t happening because of something you did or didn’t do correctly.

There are a few things you can do to manage your symptoms and feel better. But the first step is getting support from a health professional who can work with you to create a treatment plan and help you cope.

Like other types of depression, there’s still no consensus on the exact cause of postpartum depression.

Some researchers have proposed that it might be related to hormone levels. Some people might be more sensitive to the surge in hormones during pregnancy and the sudden dip in hormones right after giving birth.

But it’s likely that postpartum depression is caused by a specific combination of physical and emotional factors.

Some factors that may be associated with a higher probability of developing postpartum depression include:

  • thyroid disorder or related conditions
  • medical or family history of depression
  • multiple pregnancies
  • history of bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder
  • weak support system or social isolation
  • asthma
  • teen pregnancy
  • preterm labor
  • sleep deprivation
  • the recent loss of a loved one
  • pregnancy and birth complications
  • symptoms of depression during pregnancy
  • alcohol and substance use

Because there are still many other things that can play a role, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that you’re screened for symptoms of depression during and after pregnancy, regardless of the presence of contributing factors.

The symptoms of postpartum depression can be very similar to those of other types of depression.

Symptoms become intrusive, debilitating, and persistent to the point that they get in the way of you living your life and functioning.

But not everyone experiences the same symptoms or with the same severity, which sometimes makes it difficult to diagnose or self-identify.

If you start noticing some symptoms of postnatal depression, you might have a general feeling of “I can’t believe this is happening” or “I thought I’d be so happy, but now I don’t even feel close to my baby.”

You might also wonder when it will end or what happens if these feelings don’t go away.

It’s natural to have these concerns if things aren’t going the way you thought they would.

Remember, this is not who you are, but instead, it’s postpartum depression — a mental health condition that’s manageable.

General symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • feeling overwhelmed most of the time
  • intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness
  • crying for “no reason” and often
  • desire to withdraw from your baby, partner, family members, and social situations
  • feeling detached, disconnected, or uninterested in your baby
  • feeling disconnected from your partner
  • worrying you might hurt your baby
  • worrying someone else might hurt your baby
  • not being able to sleep even when your baby is sleeping
  • not being able to relax
  • feeling lonely or neglected by others even if they’re around
  • trouble concentrating
  • changes in appetite
  • having extreme anxiety episodes
  • experiencing anger or rage without an apparent trigger
  • not being able to enjoy activities as you did before
  • feeling guilt and shame
  • acting irritable
  • physical aches and pains
  • recurrent suicidal thoughts

This isn’t an all-inclusive list of symptoms. Postpartum depression doesn’t look the same way in everyone.

Sometimes, there are subtle symptoms that might be missed but that affect parents and their children nonetheless.

One of these subtle symptoms is the tendency to over-focus on negative thoughts. These thoughts could be about anything and everything, including yourself and your baby.

This focus on the negative might lead you to misinterpret some cues from your baby. For example, a cry for comfort from the little one might become a nuisance to you and could make you leave the room.

This, of course, is not your intention — but because of your depressed mood, this is how you feel. This can get in the way of you bonding with your baby and responding to their needs.

Sometimes you might start obsessing about specific things. For instance, you might check the locks all the time, or verify every few minutes that the baby is safe. You might also feel you don’t want anyone else touching your baby.

These signs and symptoms can last for a long period of time — from weeks to months. This is one of the reasons why it’s important you talk about it with family and healthcare professionals as soon as you notice them.

Treatment for postpartum depression is important in all cases, but it becomes a priority when:

  • your symptoms are getting worse or more intense
  • you have thoughts of hurting yourself, others, or your baby
  • you’re having problems functioning or performing everyday tasks
  • you’re having intense physical symptoms

If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:

Commonly confused, postpartum depression is not the same as “baby blues.”

Baby blues refers to a common feeling of irritability, worry, fatigue, and sadness during the first few days after giving birth.

Some symptoms of baby blues include:

  • waves of anxiety without any apparent trigger
  • worrying about being good enough as a parent
  • tearfulness
  • doubting your own ability to handle your baby and the situation
  • wondering when you’ll be able to return to your regular activities
  • feeling overwhelmed by the needs of your baby or not knowing how to respond to those needs
  • being concerned about your baby’s health
  • being concerned about your relationship with your partner
  • feeling uncomfortable in your own body or having difficulty accepting its changes

Up to 80% of people who give birth experience symptoms of baby blues.

The main difference between postpartum depression and baby blues is in intensity and duration.

Symptoms of baby blues usually resolve on their own within the first 2 weeks after you give birth. They also tend to appear at times, but they might not be constant in your day.

If the symptoms last longer than 2 weeks and get worse, you might be developing postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression involves deeper feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and difficulty going about your daily tasks. Symptoms also last much longer than the initial 2 weeks and often require professional help.

Postpartum psychosis is rare and more severe than depression. It’s estimated to occur in just 1 to 5 people out of 1,000 who have recently given birth.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis usually appear within the first 2 weeks after childbirth but can also show up after a few months. They involve losing touch with reality.

Some postpartum psychosis symptoms are:

  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others don’t)
  • rapid changes in mood and emotions, usually from one extreme to the opposite
  • agitation
  • delusions (false beliefs)
  • episodes of mania
  • episodes of depression, similar to those of postpartum depression
  • paranoia
  • confusion and disorientation
  • aggressive behavior
  • refusal to sleep and eat

Postpartum psychosis requires immediate medical attention. With timely treatment you can find ways to manage your symptoms.

Postpartum depression is a mental health condition that only a trained professional can diagnose accurately.

To do that, a mental health or medical professional will need information about the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that are concerning you, and how long you’ve experienced them. They’ll also want to know about your personal and family medical history.

This means that they might also order blood tests to rule out a physical reason for how you’re feeling. For example, an underactive thyroid could contribute to your symptoms.

With this information, they’ll be able to distinguish between baby blues and postpartum depression or any other health condition.

Additionally, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a commonly used tool to screen for symptoms of postpartum depression.

Your healthcare team might suggest you take this 10-question scale if you’re feeling depressed or anxious.

You could also take this scale on your own and bring the results to your therapist or doctor. But regardless of the score you get, if you still feel something’s not right, talking to a healthcare professional can help.

Postpartum depression can be treated. The sooner you find support, the sooner you can work on relieving some of the symptoms you’re experiencing.

If there’s an underlying condition that’s contributing to how you feel, your healthcare team will want to address that first. For example, balancing your thyroid hormone levels.

When that’s done, talking to a mental health professional can also help.

In general, postpartum depression is often treated with:

  • interpersonal psychotherapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • bright light therapy
  • electroconvulsive therapy
  • medications

You may wonder if you can take antidepressants if you’re breastfeeding. Even though not all antidepressants can be prescribed while you’re lactating, some of them have little risk of side effects for your baby.

Talking with a healthcare professional can help you weigh the risks versus benefits of specific drugs. Including your baby’s pediatrician in this conversation can provide you with additional insight.

In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug specifically for postpartum depression. The generic name is brexanolone. It’s given as an IV infusion for 2 1/2 days or 60 hours.

Clinical trials of brexanolone suggested that the drug can work for a person up to a month after one infusion. There’s the potential for some side effects that your doctor might want to talk with you about.

In general, drugs with a short half-life are considered the safest for you and your baby. Half-life refers to the amount of time that one-half of the drug dose takes to leave your system.

Treatment is important not only for someone living with postpartum depression — but also for children of parents who feel detached, anxious, or depressed. Children may have a greater chance of developing psychological or relationship challenges of their own.

Your healthcare team might also suggest family or relationship therapy. This could help those closest to you understand what you’re going through and help you out.

If left untreated, postpartum depression can last for months or years. With the right treatment, you can cope and start functioning better.

While the most effective way of treating postpartum depression requires the support of a healthcare team, you can be an active participant in your recovery.

These are some ways you can start supporting your treatment, particularly at times when you feel low.

Sleep as much as you can

This is probably the most important thing you need to do after giving birth.

Research has suggested that poor sleep quality increases the risk for severe postpartum symptoms.

Health professionals recommend that every adult get at least 7 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period — which, as a new parent, is easier said than done.

To help you sleep better, you can:

  • make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature and as dark as possible
  • listen to relaxing music or nature sounds during the day and when trying to sleep
  • avoid caffeine

If you’re having a hard time sleeping, consider talking to your doctor for additional ideas that work better for your specific situation. Consider leaning on your partner, family, and friends to get in a nap when you can.

Save time for yourself

Relaxation is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Even though you might find it challenging at first, saving time for relaxation, if possible, is one of the most effective ways to support your well-being.

This can include time to:

  • shower or take a bath
  • eat your favorite food
  • watch an episode of your favorite series
  • read a few pages of a nice book
  • have a cup of tea
  • watch a sunset

It can be a few minutes or as long as possible for you. Just deciding to take care of yourself will help you feel better.

Ask and accept help from others

Postpartum depression can distort the way you see yourself and others, or add a sense of guilt about how you feel. But you’re doing the best you can — even when you don’t feel this is the case.

Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re failing or weak. It gives you the opportunity to get support and feel loved, which can also help you feel better in time.

You could ask a relative, neighbor, friend, or anyone else you trust to:

  • stay around for 30 minutes while you take a relaxing bath or go for a walk
  • help you prepare and pack meals for the new week, so you always have a meal at hand
  • take a walk with you around your neighborhood
  • join you on a video call just to chat
  • pick up a few groceries or help you order them online
  • watch your baby while you pamper yourself at a hair or nail salon
  • run important errands for you
  • bring their baby to spend some time together with yours
  • help you find the information you need to make a decision (for example, finding a therapist online or printing a few questions to discuss with your doctor)

Don’t skip any meals

It may sound like an odyssey to get all 3 meals or more during a busy day. But eating regularly is very important for your health and your baby’s.

Grabbing a bite every few hours can help you take short breaks and keep your body alert and strong.

Although it’s important to indulge in your favorites once in a while, try to keep your diet full of fresh and healthy foods as well.

Move around

This may sound like the last thing you want right now. You may feel fatigued as it is with all the things you need to do. But taking at least 15 minutes each day to move freely and exercise can give your body the endorphins it needs to feel better.

You can find an easy at-home exercise routine, or just put your baby in the stroller and go for a walk.

The goal is to get your body in action every day for as long as you can.

Other ways you can exercise include:

  • doing a few squats while heating a meal
  • stretching on the floor while your baby is on the mat or sleeping
  • doing a couple of lunges while you walk toward the bathroom
  • dancing your way around your home
  • joining a mommy-and-me class

Before doing any of these, or any other form of exercise, it might be a good idea to discuss with your health provider the best options for you.

Breathe

This one sounds like a given, but it’s not. It’s likely that when you’re feeling anxious, stressed out, or sad, your breathing pattern turns constricted. This, in turn, can increase the intensity of your symptoms.

Take some time, every hour, to just pause for 1–3 minutes, and breathe deeply. This is particularly important at times when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

To do this breathing exercise:

  1. Close your eyes or just focus on a wall, window, or anything else in the room.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold for 3 seconds.
  3. Breathe out slowly through your mouth as you feel your back and shoulders relax.
  4. Take as many seconds to breathe in as to breathe out. For example, breathe in for a count of 5 seconds. Hold for 3 seconds. Breathe out for a count of 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat this exercise up to 10 times every time you do it.

Let the light in

Decreased sun exposure is linked to an increase in depression symptoms.

If you can, try getting at least 30 minutes of sunshine every day (weather permitting). Remember to ask your baby’s pediatrician about the best ways to protect them from the sun.

It’s also important to let natural light come in through the windows during the day, and at times when you’re not trying to sleep.

If you feel getting sunshine every day is challenging, you may want to consider a light therapy box for artificial sunlight.

Postpartum depression can be challenging, especially when facing the normal challenges of caring for a newborn.

Thankfully, help is available and coping is possible.

No matter how intense your symptoms are, once you reach out for treatment, you’ll be on your way to mental wellness.

Here are some resources that can help you take the first step to feeling better: