4 Differences Between Clinical Depression and Post-partum Depression

4 Differences Between Clinical Depression and Post-partum Depression

A new mother may dismiss her symptoms of depression as the normal effects of enduring childbirth

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), post-partum depression is similar to clinical (or major) depression. In fact, post-partum depression “exists as a part of the spectrum of clinical depression, yet it has a modifier for postpartum onset”[1]. By definition, post-partum depression is “an irritable, severely depressed mood that occurs within four weeks of giving birth and possibly as late as 30 weeks postpartum.” Ergo, post-partum depression is clinical depression, but it occurs in the time following childbirth.

The DSM IV diagnoses clinical depression when patients show the following symptoms:

  • Dominant depressed moods for most of the day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain; or decrease/increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, indecisiveness nearly every day
  • Recurrent thoughts of death

To receive a diagnosis for major depression, someone must experience at least five or more of the aforementioned symptoms for at least two weeks[2]. As a result, a clear difference between post-partum and clinical depression is its onset, as the post-partum version can only occur after a woman endures childbirth.

Another way in which post-partum depression differs from the clinical form is that, in addition to experiencing the common symptoms of clinical or major depression, a woman may also experience the following problems:

  • Extreme sleep deprivation
  • A major life transition and heightened stress levels
  • Rapidly changing hormones
  • Physical changes from breastfeeding or weaning
  • Frequent thoughts and feelings of worry, concern, anxiety, guilt and/or disappointment over being a new mom[3]

These unavoidable circumstances are major risk factors for depression, so, while a clinically depressed woman can change her life to reduce the causes of depression, she has limited ability to do so when she is a new mom. She still has a newborn to care for, and her body will still be subject to hormonal changes and etc.

Not only is it more difficult for a woman with post-partum depression to make instant life changes, but it is also more difficult for her to spot signs of her condition, because she is probably consumed with motherhood. As a result, she may dismiss her symptoms of depression as the normal effects of enduring childbirth. Furthermore, it can be extremely challenging for new moms to ask for help, because they do not wish to be seen as bad parents.

Finally, post-partum and clinical depression also differ in that the former’s effects harm both the mother and her newborn baby. Unlike an older child or spouse, an infant is completely reliant on his mother, which means he will receive worse care if his mother is worse off. In fact, post-partum depression can devastate a mother’s confidence in her parenting abilities while also having a lasting impact on both the social, emotional and cognitive development of her child. Evidence shows that infants as young as three months old can identify with the affective quality expressed by their mothers while they react to their own affective responses[4]. As a result, when infants lack affection, care and attention from their mothers, they pick up on it. Mothers with post-partum depression can impair their children’s cognitive skills, expressive language development and attention. Furthermore, a mother who struggles with post-partum depression can find it difficult to provide basic care giving needs for her child, such as breastfeeding. In serious cases of post-partum depression, mothers who contemplate suicide and self-harm can apply these thoughts to her child. Having thoughts about neglecting or harming one’s child is a symptom of post-partum depression, just as suicidal thoughts are a symptom of someone with clinical depression, so seek help for these serious problems before they come to fruition.

Find the Right Treatment for Your Depression Diagnosis

If you or a loved one shows symptoms of depression, then join the many people who are getting help. You do not have to live with depression—depression comes in many forms and affects many people, but several effective treatment options are available for women just like you.

The symptoms of depression rarely fade with time; in fact, without treatment, the symptoms often snowball to affect every part of life. If you are ready to find the right treatment options for your pain, then reach out to our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now. Our admissions coordinators can answer your questions and provide all the information you need to seek help. Our staff can even connect you with the recovery professionals who are right for your unique situation, so, whether you have questions or are ready to find safe and effective treatment, call now to chat with a recovery professional today.


[1] Andrews-Fike, Christa, M.D. (1999, February 1). A Review of Postpartum Depression. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181045/.

[2] Kleiman, Karen, MSW, LCSW. (2012, December 6). Is Postpartum Depression Different from “Regular” Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/isnt-what-i-expected/201212/is-postpartum-depression-different-regular-depression.

[3] Kleiman, Karen. What’s the Difference between postpartum and “regular” depression? Baby Center. Retrieved from www.babycenter.com/404_whats-the-difference-between-postpartum-and-regular-depressi_11713.bc.

[4] Epperson CN. (1999, April 15). Postpartum Major Depression: Detection and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. Retrieved from www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0415/p2247.html.