7 warning signs of postpartum depression

Having a new baby is wonderful – but also scary, exhausting and sometimes a struggle. These warning signs are an indication that mom may be heading in the dangerous direction of postpartum depression. By Lisa Witepski


There’s baby blues – a normal emotional fallout from the transition to life with a child – and then there’s postpartum depression. Centurion-based homeopath with a special interest in postpartum depression (PPD), Chantell Groenewald, says the two should not be confused. “The signs and symptoms of baby blues include mood swings, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, crying, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, reduced concentration and an increased or decreased appetite. But, the symptoms last only a few days or weeks. If they worsen, it’s vital to seek professional help immediately,” she advises. With as many as 30-40% of South African women experiencing PPD, it’s vital that partners be on the lookout for the following signs.

ALSO SEE: The difference between postnatal depression and baby blues

The symptom: Indifference or excessive crying

When to worry:

Chantell says that a bit of weepiness is to be expected, because (as you know by now), hormonal fluctuations go hand-in-hand with heightened emotions. But, if mom is more emotional than usual, the crying is severe and continues after the ‘baby blues’ stage, and she becomes indifferent or shows blunted affect, it could be a sign of postpartum depression.

How to help:

“Make sure mom has an adequate support system and try to be at home as much as possible during the first few weeks following the birth, even if this means taking leave for an extra week or working from home for a few hours each day. If this is not possible, ask a friend, grandmother or sister to check in on mom, bring them lunch or take them out for an hour or two during the day,” Chantell suggests.

The symptom: No interest in hobbies and activities

When to worry:

Who feels like seeing friends when you’ve had no sleep and your boobs are leaking? A little bit of hermitting is to be expected. But, says Chantell, this shouldn’t mean a complete loss of interest in the things that your partner loves.

How to help:

Remove the admin from outings so they seem less daunting. Insist on doing the lifting so that mom can see friends and attend mommies’ groups. Although she may not be eager at first, talking to other women who have been through the same thing will go a long way to helping her adjust to her new normal.

ALSO SEE: 6 mom friends you’ll meet and why you’ll love them 

The symptom: Increase or decrease in appetite

When to worry:

Women who are breastfeeding feel as though they could consume everything in sight – which is perfectly understandable, when you think of the extra calories they need to support nursing. But, if the Cookie Monster is getting out of hand (or, on the other hand, she isn’t eating anything at all), it’s time to step in.

How to help:

Chantell recommends stocking up on healthy foods that make for convenient snacking. When you’re elbow-deep in nappies and doing the mommy rock to get a reluctant baby sleep, making a sandwich just isn’t going to happen. With that in mind, consider making breakfast or lunch for mom so she has it ready to eat when she has a gap.

ALSO SEE: 8 make-ahead breakfasts and lunches 

Symptoms: Mood swings

When to worry:

Did someone say emotional rollercoaster? Fortunately, outbursts of irritability and anger should become less frequent after the initial few weeks following childbirth. If they continue, it’s a sign that your wife is feeling overwhelmed and unsupported.

How to help:

Remain calm! It might not be easy when you’re faced with an irrational banshee, but if you match her heightened emotions, a screaming match is inevitable. Acknowledge her feelings and comfort her, making sure she feels safe and understood. Chantell warns that marital conflict is a major contributor to postpartum depression, so if you’re just not seeing eye-to-eye, it’s worth seeking professional counselling.

ALSO SEE: Fights all new parents have and how to avoid them

The symptom: Obsessive and irrational thoughts

When to worry:

Okay, so we’ve all stood over our babies, watching to make sure they’re breathing. “Fear is part of motherhood,” acknowledges Chantell, “but it should never rule or interfere with your day-to-day life.”

How to help:

Don’t even think of telling her she’s being irrational! Instead, give her a chance to talk through her fears and address each one. Often, having this sounding board can diminish those fears and make her feel less afraid.

The symptom: Insomnia

When to worry:

Obviously eight hours of solid sleep is no longer a reality, but Chantell notes that difficulty sleeping in the absence of a trigger is a concern.

How to help:

You might not be able to breastfeed, but you can still help out by bringing baby to nurse and burping her so that mom can squeeze in some extra sleep before the next feed. If baby is bottle-fed, make turns to do the feeds.

ALSO SEE: How to regain your sleep while caring for baby

The symptom: Thoughts of self-harm, or harming the baby

When to worry:

Most moms who have had these kinds of thoughts flit through their minds are too steeped in shame to admit them. Many mothers may think they are the only ones finding motherhood difficult, and endure notions of inadequacy and guilt as a result. But, “women who suffer from PPD may harbour feelings of anger or hatred towards the baby who has turned their life upside down,” Chantell explains.  “Given that this makes her feel even worse, it’s not likely she’ll talk about it openly.”

How to help:

Keep the channels of communication open, and make sure your wife knows you will accept any emotions she admits to experiencing.

More about the expert:

Chantell Groenewald is a Centurion-based homeopath with a special interest in postpartum depression. She has been in private practice since 2012. She has a special interest in chronic female inflammatory diseases, mental health, weight management and infertility. Click here to contact Dr Groenewald.

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