8 Little-Known Signs of Postpartum Depression

Usually, a celebrity checking into a treatment facility equals scandal. But Hayden Panettiere’s story is anything but. Here are eight symptoms to watch for and four myths, busted.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #89

Having a baby is hard—they don’t call it ‘labor’ for nothing.  And then? No rest for the weary. You’re suddenly and wholly responsible for this fragile, helpless being. Top that with some serious sleep deprivation, turbulent hormones, and the cultural expectations around bonding, bliss, and being “mom enough,” and you’ve got another kind of rude awakening on your hands—one not precipitated by middle-of-the-night feeding requests.

It’s no wonder that, through no fault of their own, 9-16% of moms will experience postpartum depression. Indeed, a mix of genetics, hormones, predisposition, support (or lack thereof) and stress lay fertile ground for the illness.

Once silenced and written off, women with postpartum depression are, thankfully, gaining a voice. So this week, we’ll amplify that voice through some mythbusting—plus, eight symptoms to watch for.

Mythbuster #1: Most postpartum depression doesn’t start ‘post’ birth. In fact, in fully 50% of moms with postpartum depression, symptoms begin during pregnancy, not just after the baby is born. Additionally, for many moms, anxiety, not depression, is the first inkling that something is wrong.

Mythbuster #2: Postpartum illness doesn’t have to start within the first four weeks. While the official word on postpartum depression is that it begins within four weeks of giving birth, if you are suffering, you don’t have to fit into a neat little diagnostic box to get help. Nothing about having a new baby is clean, including exact symptoms and timing. Many advocates have argued that changing the onset to anytime in the first six months or even the first year after giving birth would more accurately reflect the experiences of moms with postpartum depression. No matter the label, you should be treated the same by your physician or mental health provider: with compassion and action.

Mythbuster #3: Postpartum depression isn’t the only postpartum illness. Indeed, there’s a whole collection: postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and rarely, but often enough to be recognized, postpartum psychosis, are all challenging disorders new moms (and even dads) can experience.

More from the archives: What is Postpartum OCD?

Mythbuster #4: Postpartum depression isn’t just “baby blues.” Baby blues is the name for the period of emotional adjustment that occurs after having a baby. But baby blues goes away on its own and consists of experiencing the symptoms below in a transient way. By contrast, with postpartum depression, you feel some or all of the symptoms more often than not.

What exactly are we talking about?  Let’s go through some of the symptoms.  It’s important to note that not everyone will experience every symptom, plus there are also the classic symptoms of depression like crying and changes in eating and sleeping. Don’t worry about matching up perfectly—you know if you’re miserable. 

So, what are the symptoms of postpartum depression?


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.