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Signs of Postpartum Syndromes

Signs of Postpartum Syndromes


Many women are depressed after childbirth; at least 80% suffer in some way! However, there are differences in how individual women respond. This article describes the range of depressive symptoms a woman might feel after childbirth, starting with a description of what are normal, non-depressive feelings. After reading this chapter, a postpartum mother will see where she falls in the spectrum and can recognize that what she may be feeling is common, and that there is help!

Normal responses to childbirth:

Every woman knows that following a delivery, even the easiest one, she will feel some level of discomfort. This level is influenced by a variety of factors: physical, psychological, environmental.

It usually takes six weeks to three months to recover For at least the first two hours after delivery, the woman experiences physical discomfort. The pain often increases in the days following childbirth, as the woman may experience strong uterine contractions, discomfort from stitches, and engorgement and abrasions due to breastfeeding. It usually takes a new mother six weeks to three months to recover. The pregnancy and birth have depleted her vitamins and minerals, and weeks of postpartum bleeding deplete her iron levels, leaving her with little energy. Her body seeks to repair itself from the strain of childbirth, blood loss, fluid loss, low blood pressure, and muscle strain. There can be stitches that need to heal, as well as possible surgical incisions. Her recovery is further slowed by lack of consistent sleep. In addition, she is experiencing huge hormonal upheaval: estrogen and progesterone levels have plummeted, and the lactating hormone levels are rising.

It is totally normal for sleep-deprived new mothers to be exhausted, unable to concentrate, and even to suffer some mild memory loss. In addition, the new mother has difficulty adjusting to losing control of her environment and being at her baby's beck and call. She cannot shower or eat whenever she pleases, let alone clean the house or make other plans. She feels cooped up in the house with a newborn; she may also feel unattractive with extra maternity pounds. She may feel less sexual interest, so her relationship with her husband may be more tense. Hormones, the new baby, and exhaustion are the typical causes of distress. Getting out, sharing with other women, and exercising are simple solutions. Time and good communication can help iron out these problems.

Baby Blues-

An estimated 80% of women experience temporary moodiness, with crying, sadness, irritability and frustration.1 Depression and fits of crying are interspersed with periods of serenity and pleasure. Individual sensitivity to the hormonal changes (rather than measurable differences in the bloodstream) causes some women and not others to get the baby blues. Spirits are uplifted by a good rest or getting out. These feelings usually resolve themselves by the second or third week after birth, at the latest. Sometimes, some forms of intervention, such as talking to friends or taking extra nutritional supplements, are needed. Women with severe blues have a 25% risk of developing PPD in a later birth. 2

Postpartum Stress Syndrome-

Postpartum stress syndrome is an emotional reaction which falls between baby blues and postpartum depression. Also known as Adjustment Disorder; 20% of those women who have baby blues go on to experience postpartum stress syndrome. Postpartum stress syndrome lasts longer than three weeks. Unlike baby blues, in which feelings of sadness are interspersed with periods of happiness, postpartum stress syndrome is characterized by a sadness which seeps into a woman's pores and permeates her life.

Postpartum stress syndrome causes feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. She wants to be the perfect mother and wife, but at the same time she feels exhausted and overwhelmed. Women experiencing postpartum stress syndrom usually function fairly well and get through their day, though they feel awful inside. Although some women go on to develop clinical depression, most women find relief through the loving support of family and friends as they gradually adjust to their new baby routine. In most instances, reducing day-to-day hassles and lightening responsibilities enable the mother to nurture herself and rediscover her old self. 3

Postpartum Depression-

Postpartum depression can come on without warning. A woman does not have to suffer from baby blues or postpartum stress syndrome first. In fact, a woman can go through a normal childbirth and recover completely, when suddenly PPD strikes like a bolt of lightning.

Postpartum depression can come on without warning What does "depression" mean? Being depressed is an overused phrase, describing a passing period of sad or bad feelings. Conversely, clinical depression is defined as prolonged, intense, sad, empty feelings lasting two weeks or more. To be diagnosed with any major depressive disorder (not just PPD), an individual must experience depressed mood or anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure) for two weeks, in addition to five or more of the following symptoms: excessive weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, suicidal thoughts.4

PPD is a specific category of clinical depression. It usually emerges three to six months after childbirth, but can occur at any time up to a year. Sometimes symptoms appear around the time of weaning or the return of menses, both events being associated with major hormonal changes. Late onset of PPD may occur if psychosocial or environmental factors become more difficult to cope with. Classic symptoms of PPD include: crying, sadness, irritability, anger, lack of control, sleepiness, sleep disturbances, early morning wakefulness, reduction of sexual desire, anxiety, carbohydrate binging, weight gain, or weight loss due to lack of appetite. No one woman has all these symptoms. Fifteen percent of women who give birth suffer from PPD!5

PPD is considered a syndrome, not a disease. A disease, such as pneumonia, has a very specific cause; a syndrome, such as PPD, has multiple associated causes. Since the symptoms of PPD vary from woman to woman, the syndrome often goes undetected or misdiagnosed.

The diagnosis of PPD is further complicated by the fact that it may coincide with other psychological disorders. For example, two other disorders, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be exacerbated by childbirth. Panic disorder, part of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), manifests itself as a panic attack, with abrupt onset of difficulty breathing, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness and a panicky feeling of being "about to die." These may be triggered by an actual event or may arise spontaneously. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is defined as the presence of either obsessions (recurrent, persistent thoughts, images, impulses) or compulsions (repetitive, ritualized behaviors such as excessive hand washing, counting, checking) that are time-consuming and distressing, interfering with a person's functioning and relationships.6

To read a personal account of PPD, please click here.

Postpartum Psychosis

PPD is caused by multiple factors Although postpartum psychosis is fairly uncommon, with only one in one thousand women developing PPP within a few days after childbirth, it can dramatically affect everyone involved. Some new mothers suffering psychosis may have to be hospitalized for a short term or, even more rare, an unfortunate few who do not receive the right treatment in time may harm themselves or their child.

Extreme agitation and not connecting with reality are the first noticeable symptoms of PPP, along with weight loss, paranoia, and behavior that is uncharacteristic for that new mother. Often the initial symptoms may be picked up on the maternity floor. If she is already home, she needs immediate medical attention (in an emergency room) and an examination by a psychiatrist. Postpartum psychosis is triggered by the rapid hormonal changes occurring after childbirth; many such women go on to develop severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Both syndromes are linked with a woman's extreme sensitivity to hormonal changes.

Thus we see that a woman's moods can range dramatically after childbirth from normal exhaustion and tension all the way to postpartum psychosis.


Baby blues:

Occurrence: 80% of new mothers

Onset: Up until third week postpartum.

Signs: moodiness, weepiness, nervousness, sleeplessness.

Treatment: Resolves on its own, though increased communication with caring people and catching up on lost sleep helps.

Implications for the future: not an indication as to whether or not a woman will develop PPD.

Postpartum Stress Syndrome (Adjustment Disorder):

Occurrence: One in five new mothers

Onset: From birth until about 3 months postpartum.

Signs: anxiety, self-doubt, helplessness, frequent crying, frustration, irritability, negative feelings.

Treatment: Often considered a normal part of adjusting to parenthood; usually resolves on its own. Recovery is hastened when a woman nurtures herself and reduces her standards of performance and demands on herself during this time.

Implications for future: can pass or progress to full-blown depression.

Postpartum Depression:

Occurrence: 15 -20% of new moms

Onset: from 3 weeks postpartum to one year; average 3-6 months.

Signs: depression, frequent crying, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, reduced interest in marital relations, reduced appetite or binge eating (carbohydrate cravings), irritability, anger, yelling, feelings of lack of control and hopelessness.

Treatment: Treatments such as talk therapy, medication, natural remedies, vitamins

Implications for future: May recur with succeeding childbirths. Women should be aware that preventive therapies are needed.

Postpartum Psychosis:

Incidence: 1 in 1,000 new mothers

Occurrence: within the first 2 weeks postpartum

Signs: hearing voices or sounds no one else hears. Thoughts of hurting oneself or baby, no sleep in 48 hours, cannot care for baby or self, rapid weight loss without trying. Can't control thoughts, as if someone else were controlling her thoughts and actions.

Treatment: Hospitalization, medication.

Implications for future: Should be under joint psychiatric/obstetric care during next pregnancy and postpartum.

This article has been excerpted from the book Delivery from Darkness: A Jewish Guide to the Prevention and Treatment of Postpartum Depression by Rabbi Boruch Finkelstein; Michal Finkelstein RN, CNM; and Doreen Winter, MSW.


Chadron L, Health Behavior News Service, Postpartum Depression: Beyond the 'Baby Blues', University of Rochester,(2004).


Henshaw, C., A Longitudinal Study of Postnatal Dyshphoria. (MD thesis) University of Aberdeen,(2000).


Kleiman, Karen R., and Valerie D. Raskin. This Isn't What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression. New York: Bantam, 1994.


Leibenluft, E. Chief of the Unit on Affective Disorders of the National Institute of Mental Health, Division of National Institute of Health, Smithsonian Resident Associates series, (2001).


Bachorowski J, Kaplan PS, Zarlengo-Strouse P: Child-directed speech produced by depressed mothers. Child Development 70: 560-70, (1999).


Slater L, Daniel J, Banks A, The Complete Guide to Mental Health For Women. Beacon Press , Boston. (2003).

Michal Finkelstein is a registered nurse and has been a midwife for over twenty years in Jerusalem, delivering more than one thousand babies. She is also a childbirth educator. Michal and her husband are the authors of B'Sha'ah Tova on pregnancy and childbirth and The Third Key, a guide for couples suffering from infertility.
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Yehudis Yerushalayim December 6, 2015

this is about the hospitalization of birth, not birth itself (contd.) After birth, instead of being given the support they need, they get yet more drugs together with a diagnosis that may well return to haunt them and cause others to regard them as defective and weak, rather than as what they truly are - women recovering from a major event who need REAL help.
Many women are also traumatized by birth - by the invasion of their privacy, by having strangers - many male - violating their bodies with or without permission in the name of safety, of having their dignity stripped from them as they lie prone in front of strangers with their bodies, normally covered, are suddenly exposed for all to see. Symptoms are more likely to be those of PTSD than "PPD." Just try giving birth modestly in the hospital - try to keep your own tzanua robe on instead of a skimpy hospital gown, designed to make it easy for them to cut you open, but totally inadequate for tznius.
Hospital birth means being stripped of modesty and dignity and it's no wonder that women react as they do Reply

Shuli Yerushalayim December 6, 2015

it doesn't have to be like this AT ALL contd. Many discomforts after (hospital) birth are caused by the over-medicalization of birth. If hospitals would not just allow, but also encourage upright positions for birthing (as women used for millennia prior to modern hospitals aka birthing stool etc) then stitches would be a rare occurrence. Problems associated with nursing would be alleviated if women were rooming-in with their babies instead of being denied access to them solely for the convenience of hospital routine.
Sorry, but this article addresses not the problems of birth, but rather the problems caused by the hospitalization of birth. Natural home birth in a clean, comfortable, loving atmosphere makes much of this article moot.
Mrs. Finkelstein, in your book you yourself noted that PPD etc is virtually unknown in the developing world where cultural practices give the new mother the support she needs. Why don't you draw the obvious conclusions instead of plugging drugs, hospitals, and shrinks? Reply

Shuli Yerushalayim December 6, 2015

it doesn't have to be like this AT ALL You write, "The pregnancy and birth have depleted her vitamins and minerals, and weeks of postpartum bleeding deplete her iron levels, leaving her with little energy..." This doesn't have to be the case, but too many women accept it as a given. In fact, pregnant women should be paying careful attention to diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements precisely in order that they won't become terribly depleted after birth.
A woman who looks after her health properly during pregnancy and does her research will not be bleeding for weeks and weeks and weeks after birth - that's a sign that she is healing far too slowly and/or overexerting herself after birth instead of getting the rest she needs.
Most women feel discomfort after birth? No! Most women having gone through a natural, healthy birth are flooded with "feel-good" hormones after birth and feel on top of the world. It's another story, of course, if it was a medically-managed birth.
Contd. in next post... Reply

Maggie Chula Vista, CA January 6, 2014

PPD I suffered the same situation my baby was the most affected my PPD behavior was anger, depression, crying, all kind of feelings, my partner abandon me & took me from CA to GA after everything I went through I went to México & everything went bad, is a very sad situation that I couldn't control. I had the support of my family. But I felt alone & sad. My daughter now has 14 & she is the only kid I have.

God Bless You! Reply

nechama Shomron, Israel November 10, 2009

from 'bubby' As the mother of a large family as well as a bubby, I'd like to add that the support of friends and family can make a big difference. In Israel, it's very common for the new mom and family to move in with her mom and get the care, love and support crucial to a good start in the first few weeks after the birth. Before making aliyah, four of my children were born in the states and three of the youngest in Israel. The support of friends and family in Israel was amazing. Caring for the new mom seems to be so much more a part of the culture here. My suggestion is that wherever you live, think about how you can give extra support to the new mom and baby whether it's bringing meals, babysitting other kids so the new mom can get much needed rest, help with cleaning, or whatever you know the new mom would like. Many times, your friendly company and help can make alot of difference so that the new mom doesn't feel isolated. Reply

Jessica Blanks Atlanta, GA November 9, 2009

Postpartum Doula Care I recently attended a postpartum doula workshop by DONA. After have 6 children and having experienced PPD at least 3 of those pregnancies, I want to help other mothers learn that if they experience these feelings they are temporary and there is a lot of help available. We need to support one another more at this time. New moms are too isolated. All the best to new moms and dads! Reply

Dina from Israel Jerusalem, Israel November 8, 2009

Thank you This is a crucial read for any woman during the weeks before and after childbirth. This syndrome affects the most unlikeliest of women, those who have always been confident, happy, cheerful, patient. Everything suddenly falls into doubt, and it can last so long...(as personally experienced)
I hope that every woman can have the chance to read this, I'm certain that it would have helped me.
All the best, Reply

Frumma Rosenberg-Gottlieb miami, florida November 8, 2009

post partum depression There is an amazing organization of religious women, social workers, telephone outreach and psychiatrists called Sparks. It is based in Boro Park but they can be reached at or718 -2 SPARKS. They are endorsed by Dr Twersky and my husband and I have done much to help them with their public relations campaign. Reply

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