Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety? Here’s How You Can Tell the Difference

September 19, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Meghan Rattigan, D.O. contributes to topics such as Women's Health.

Being a new mom is exciting, but it can also be stressful. You’re adjusting to a major change in your life. Meanwhile, your hormones are in flux, and you may be seriously sleep deprived. It’s understandable if you occasionally feel a little blue or anxious. For most women, these feelings are mild and short-lived. For some, however, they turn into a full-blown mood disorder that drains the joy from parenting. You’ve probably heard of postpartum depression (PPD) — serious, long-lasting depression that starts after giving birth. What you might not know is that postpartum anxiety (PPA) is just as common and disabling.

Fortunately, these conditions can be treated with talk therapy, medication or both. First, however, you need to recognize when you have a problem. Here’s what to watch for and how to tell the difference between the two.

PPD: More Than Baby Blues

It’s not uncommon to feel a bit blue for a few days after giving birth. But if you’re sad or empty feelings linger, and if they interfere with your daily life, you may have PPD. Meghan Rattigan, D.O., an OB/GYN at Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center, says, “This condition can start anytime in the first year after giving birth, but it typically begins one to three weeks afterward. It affects 10 to 20 percent of new moms.”

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or overwhelmed
  • Losing interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Being uninterested in your baby
  • Lacking energy and motivation
  • Having trouble paying attention or making decisions
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Withdrawing from other people
  • Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby

PPA: Out-of-Control Worries

Many new moms have concerns about handling the responsibilities of parenthood. But if your worries become hard to control, and if they start causing problems in your daily life, you may have PPA. Dr. Rattigan says, “This condition gets less attention than PPD, and it hasn’t been studied nearly as much. Yet it’s also estimated to affect up to 20 percent of new mothers.”

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Worrying excessively about a variety of things; for example, you might worry incessantly about your baby’s well-being, your parenting ability and your finances
  • Feeling restless, keyed up or irritable
  • Having stress-related physical symptoms, such as muscle tension or an upset stomach
  • Being unable to concentrate or feeling as if your mind has gone blank.

If you have these symptoms, tell a loved one and contact your health care provider for help. Untreated PPD and PPA can have a negative impact on both mothers and children. Dr. Rattigan adds, “Some women feel guilty about being anxious or depressed when they expected to feel blissful. But having PPD or PPA doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. It just means you have a common disorder, which luckily is very treatable.”

An Honest Discussion

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk openly with your physician about any concerns or questions you have. Remember that your physician is your partner in health. To learn more about Maternity Services at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, visit

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.