Postpartum Depression Diagnosis Identifying Postpartum Signs

A postpartum depression diagnosis is diagnosed in the same way as any major depressive episode, with a few modifications made for the unique situation women are in after childbirth. A history of postpartum depression signs, screening questionnaires and tests to rule out physical causes of depression are all employed to make a postpartum depression diagnosis.

Obstacles to Postpartum Depression Diagnosis

Symptoms of postpartum depression, while debilitating, may not be obvious to doctors unless the woman suffering from depression broaches the topic. Unfortunately, some women may not mention postpartum depression signs to their doctor, making diagnosis more difficult.

Women may hide postpartum depression signs for several reasons. Depression itself makes it difficult to seek out treatment, and it can be difficult to admit that one is depressed.

First-time mothers may not realize that their symptoms are a sign of illness, dismissing symptoms of postpartum depression as the baby blues. Other women may believe that postpartum depression somehow makes them a bad mother. Shame, fear and guilt are all postpartum depression signs, and can also prevent women from seeking help.

Steps in Postpartum Depression Diagnosis

The first step in any postpartum depression diagnosis is to gather a list of symptoms. Women may be asked to fill out mental health screening questionnaires to rate the severity of their symptoms.

Depression symptoms can be caused by a variety of physical conditions. Some women develop thyroid dysfunction after childbirth, which may cause weight loss, agitation and panic attacks. Labor can cause excessive bleeding, which may in turn cause anemia, leading to fatigue. These and other conditions should be ruled out when considering a postpartum depression diagnosis.

Diagnostic Criteria for Postpartum Depression

The presence of a dysphoric mood (sadness, anxiety or irritability) or anhedonia (lack of enjoyment in the pleasures of life) almost every day for at least two weeks is required to warrant a postpartum depression diagnosis.

Additionally, a woman must have at least four of the following symptoms of postpartum depression:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating/making decisions
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Excessive concern for childÕs health
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of shame, guilt or worthlessness
  • Psychomotor retardation (slow movement or speech)
  • Thoughts of death/suicide.

Feelings of guilt or worthlessness often focus on performance as a mother when postpartum depression is a factor.

Fatigue, changes in appetite and changes in sleep patterns must all be considered carefully. A new mother is expected to be tired, newborns disrupt sleep, and appetite often changes after pregnancy. However, such conditions may also be postpartum depression signs.

Postpartum psychosis occurs in a small number of women after giving birth. Sign of postpartum psychosis include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Thoughts of hurting self or the baby.

Postpartum psychosis is a serious condition and requires immediate medical treatment in order to ensure the health of both the mother and the baby.

Left untreated, postpartum depression can last for months. An early postpartum depression diagnosis provides opportunities for treatment and relief from severe postpartum depression symptoms.


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Epperson, C. (1999). Postpartum major depression: Detection and treatment. Retrieved May 12, 2010, from the American Academy of Family Physicians website:

Leopold, K.; Zoschnick, L. (n.d.). Postpartum depression. Retrieved May 12, 2010, from the Obgyn website: