By now, pretty much everyone has heard of postpartum depression (PPD). It affects about 7 to 20% of new moms (and more than a few new dads). But have you heard of the less talked about postpartum 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?

Postpartum depression 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 self-criticism, “Why did I do this?” “How could I think I would be good at this?” “I am such a failure.” Postpartum depression 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 new 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.

Postpartum depression 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 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 postpartum depression, 5 to 10% of new moms (and, according to some research, as many as 17 to 20%) experience postpartum anxiety.

While postpartum depression may cause tears and hopelessness, postpartum anxiety 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. (Learn more about intrusive thoughts.)

What To 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 postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression can be treated with talk therapy, medication, helping your baby sleep, and other therapeutic techniques—many of which can be accessed without leaving your home. (Here are a bunch of online mental health resources for new moms.)

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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About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.