Degrees of Postpartum Mood Disorders

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that eight in 10 new mothers have the “baby blues,” a mild, transitory, sleep-deprived state of confusion, regret and sadness. Of those eight, two will develop postpartum depression (PPD), which is marked by lasting feelings of despair, loss of control, confusion, an inability to sleep or eat, anxiety or obsessive thoughts. PPD isn’t something that you’ll just get over, as some women are told. It requires counseling, medication and follow-up care.

The rarest mood disorder following birth, postpartum psychosis (PPS), occurs suddenly. It affects one out of 1,000 new mothers and requires immediate hospitalization and medication. Its symptoms are clear: a mother says she’s hallucinating, sees herself harming her children, hears voices urging her to harm her children, and doesn’t recognize the impulses or thoughts as aberrant.

Having thoughts about doing awful things to your kids is normal, therapists say. But if you recognize at some level that these things would be horrible acts, then you’re probably suffering from PPD, not psychosis, and you’re unlikely to harm your child.

Left untreated or with poorly managed care, women with PPS have killed their children. Those headlines make us cringe before we run to hug our kids. They also cause some vulnerable moms to wonder if they’re capable of similarly horrific acts.

Read how one mother survived her life-threatening battle with depression.