Live a bolder life.


Heather Tuckman, PsyD • Clinical Psychologist

Problematic Symptoms in New Mothers

Postpartum depression has made headlines, increasing awareness among mothers who find others share their feelings and fears.

However, many of the stories that get the most attention are extreme situations. This can lead new mothers to be fearful of talking about what they are experiencing because of a concern that others might think they are “crazy” or even dangerous. Or, they may be hesitant to report their feelings because they believe that they must not really be serious since they are not involved in dramatic headline-grabbing scenarios. Still, they are suffering no less.

Problematic symptoms during pregnancy or new motherhood can vary tremendously and have different causes. While most women have an idea about what they believe postpartum depression might feel like, sometimes new mothers will report that they don’t feel sad–but they do feel off–or they have excruciatingly uncomfortable thoughts or experiences. There are many facets to postpartum conditions, and postpartum depression is just one condition in a family that includes other types of mood, anxiety, and in extremely rare cases, psychotic disorders. Perinatal/Postpartum conditions often don’t present as what most people think of as classic depression.

An immense variety of symptoms exist; the following list includes some of the feelings, thoughts, or experiences these women may have. New or expectant mothers may have any or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Uncontrollable, roller-coaster emotions
  • Feeling detached from reality, baby, or others
  • Feeling isolated or alone
  • Excessive feelings of guilt or shame
  • Intense anger or irritation
  • Inability to sleep, or a need/desire to sleep much more than would normally be necessary
  • Loss of appetite, increased appetite, or even an appetite for non-food items
  • Intense dissatisfaction with others
  • Lack of attachment or even active dislike of the new baby or your other children
  • Unrealistic beliefs about her abilities or lack of abilities
  • Intense anxiety and fears
  • Terrifying thoughts, especially those that you might find exceptionally frightening
  • Intrusive, and often extremely upsetting, fears or beliefs that they will harm their baby or cause some other kind of damage to their child’s welfare, intentionally or unintentionally, including fears or beliefs that they may sexually abuse their baby, or other actions that may disgust them
  • Inability to let others care for or sometimes even hold/feed/comfort the baby, with the idea that she is the only one able to provide such care because of unrealistic ideas about others’ capacity to provide sufficient or safe care
  • Heightened fears about the intentions of others, their surroundings, or the world at large
  • Irrational beliefs or fears of contamination, safety, food, etc.
  • Feeling keyed up, shaky, sweaty, or otherwise uncomfortable and on-edge
  • Intense worry about the welfare of the baby that prevents you from thinking about or doing much else
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations, including frequently “hearing” the baby cry when he or she is not actually crying, or more unusual visual, auditory or other sensory disturbances
  • Increased arguments or extreme irritation with your spouse or romantic partner
  • Loss of sense of self or personal identity as separate from the baby
  • Feeling despondent or lacking motivation
  • Avoiding taking care of one’s own daily needs for prolonged periods (i.e., not eating, showering, dressing, etc.) or otherwise lack of self-care
  • New fears of events or situations, i.e., driving, leaving the house, being alone, walking up/downstairs, going to unfamiliar places
  • Problems with breastfeeding connected to unrealistic, irrational, fears or beliefs
  • Feeling like she needs to escape or something terrible might happen
  • Increased heart rate and sense of panic
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • New beliefs that others find bizarre or nonsensical
  • Activities that are either pointless or out of place
  • Excessively demanding of others
  • Intrusive feelings of being unsafe around the baby
  • Thoughts of hurting herself or others

It is important to note that experiencing any one or some of these symptoms does not constitute a diagnosis of a mental health disorder. When we look to identify who needs help, we consider a few variables, including the INTENSITY of the symptoms, the FREQUENCY that they are experienced, the DURATION of time that they have been present, and if they cause DYSFUNCTION in your daily routine or behavior. Still, if you are wondering if you need help, you probably need to talk to someone about it, if only to help alleviate your concern and normalize your experience.

Women are not doomed to perinatal and postpartum suffering. As dark and isolated as you may feel now, many different approaches can help you feel better and allow you to enjoy being a parent (and an individual) again or for the first time. If you would like to talk over your situation and see if you might benefit from treatment, please give me a call at 610-430-1430, and we can discuss your options.

Perpetual fear and discomfort are not normal experiences during new motherhood. End your isolation and get help.