By now, pretty much everyone has heard of postpartum depression (PPD). It affects 10 to 20% of new moms (and, more than a few new dads). But have you heard ofthe less talked aboutpostpartum anxiety (PPA)? What exactly are PPD and PPA? How do they differ? And how do you know if you have them?

What is Postpartum Depression?

PPD is the deeper, dark blue version of the Baby Blues. It’s marked by feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and fatigue. Women often feel nagging guilt, like they’re the worst mother in the world or that their baby might be better off without them. Or, they may be plagued by little voices peppering them with criticism, “Why did I do this?” “How could I think I would be good at this?” “I am such a failure.” PPD can also lead to loss of appetite, unusual weight gain or loss, and the inability to turn your mind off and fall asleep.

It’s very, very common to feel overwhelmed by the extraordinary experiences of labor, delivery, recovery, pain, starting breastfeeding, etc. After all, you are suddenly responsible for a whole entire person who requires an extreme amount of care! And layering total exhaustion on top of all this can be like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

PPD has a sneaky way of making you feel hopeless, like you are in a black pit and will never get out. But thankfully, this common problem is totally treatable! Reach out for help! And remember: You’re not alone.

What is Postpartum Anxiety? How Is It Different Than PPD?

This close cousin is not quite as common, but every bit as upsetting. And even though it isn’t as well-known as PPD, 5-10% of new moms experience postpartum anxiety.

While PPD may cause tears and hopelessness, PPA is marked by fears, obsessive concerns,scary thoughts and irritability. Moms may worry about everything. They often experience obsessive behaviors and intrusive thoughts that are disturbing, unwanted, and out-of-character.

You may find yourself checking 50 times to make sure the baby is still breathing, or having an unshakeable worry that your baby might slide into the bath and drown, or horrible images of your baby being hurt by someone…even by you.

As you might imagine, women suffering from intrusive thoughts may hesitate to confide in others for the fear of being judged. It is so important to be able to share your concerns with someone. These thoughts can seem so real, but when you’re so tired and stressed your brain can play tricks and lead you down dark paths.

What Should You Do if You Think You Have Postpartum Depression or Anxiety?

Ultimately, whether you are feeling “blue” or “red,” feeling joyless and incompetent or getting overwhelmed with intrusive fears and disturbing thoughts…your next steps are the same: reach out to friends, family, your physician/midwife, or online support groups. Both PPA and PPD can be treated with talk therapy, medication, helping your baby sleep, and other therapeutic techniques.

Remember, past generations of parents had large extended families right there to help them do this exhausting work. So, please be as kind to yourself as you would be to others. Don’t be shy! Ask for a little help (perhaps cooking, cleaning and watching the baby). As embarrassed and “abnormal” as you may feel, it’s so important to know that many other moms and dads go through very similar struggles. You are giving so much of yourself, you truly deserve to get some help at this challenging time.

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