Despite being considered a mental illness, there are several physical symptoms of postpartum depression that can also plague mothers. Often, the physical symptoms are mistaken as a condition of something else, both by mothers themselves and by health care providers.
The physical symptoms of postpartum depression aren’t discussed as often as the mental or emotional ones. Therefore, many mothers with postpartum depression report feeling like hypochondriacs and find themselves constantly googling their symptoms online to find out what is causing them to feel so physically ill.
It’s important to rule out anything else, but it’s just as important to make mothers aware that postpartum depression can cause physical pain.
Here is a breakdown of some of the physical symptoms of postpartum depression.
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Common Physical Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
There are a few physical symptoms of postpartum depression that are common knowledge and almost all sufferers will experience at some point.
Exhaustion and Fatigue – Many mothers will say they didn’t notice they were experiencing fatigue because, well… they’re moms. And if you’re not exhausted 99% of the day, are you even a mother? But the exhaustion and fatigue caused by postpartum depression goes far beyond the normal tiredness that all mothers experience.
Fatigue means that it requires a lot of effort to complete the smallest tasks. For example, do your arms get tired simply from brushing your own hair? Do you feel out of breath just standing in line at the grocery store? If you feel unable to even perform the most basic of tasks – then you are experiencing fatigue and not just the everyday exhaustion of motherhood.
Appetite Changes – This is another one that is commonly missed by mothers. We are often too busy taking care of the kids to eat or sometimes just forget. And then we binge eat after the kids go to bed because we haven’t eaten anything all day. Those aren’t appetite changes…
Appetite changes due to postpartum depression are much more extreme. An aversion to food altogether is common, but so is non-stop eating. And this all depends on our personalities. For some people, it’s hard to eat when they feel sad or stressed. For others, eating is comforting and makes them feel better.
One way to stay on top of the appetite changes is to watch for weight fluctuations. A sudden and drastic increase or decrease in weight can signal that postpartum depression has taken a toll on a person’s appetite.
Sleep Problems – This is a physical symptom that can go either way. Many women cannot sleep at all (insomnia) and others want to sleep all day long (hypersomnia). This also depends on the individual personality but if a woman has anxiety as well as depression, they are more likely to experience insomnia. Sleeping pills can help, but there are natural sleep options as well.
Physical Symptoms Caused By Stress
In addition to the more common physical symptoms of postpartum depression, many women experience pain caused by stress. Stress is a big trigger for symptoms of depression, and as long as stress is a factor in your life, you can expect to have constant mental and physical pain.
Back/Neck/Joint Pain – Tension caused by stress puts a lot of extra pressure on the bones and joints in the body. When stressed out we tend to tighten up, raise our shoulders, hunch our backs and hang our heads, which isn’t the way our bones and muscles are supposed to work. In addition to tension-related pain, many sufferers of postpartum depression experience bodily pains due to the large amount of time spent in bed plus a lack of exercise. Massage therapy or a low-impact exercise such as yoga can help to relieve some of the pain.
Headaches/Migraines – Chronic headaches and migraines are also a result of stress and the overall drop in healthy habits. Without the right diet, exercise or fresh air intake, they are almost unavoidable. Tension headaches caused by stress can be a regular occurrence. Certain medications can also cause headaches (or withdrawals from medications). Essential oil blends that are specially developed for migraines or tension headaches are a better alternative to taking medication on a regular basis.
Nausea and Digestion Problems – Stress can have quite an impact on the digestive system. That feeling of knots in the stomach is not just in the head – it’s literal. Stress and anxiety can cause nausea and constipation or diarrhea. A poor diet, different medications and a lack of exercise can also result in slower digestion. It can take a while to get your digestive system back on track with everything going on, so it’s a good idea to supplement with a digestive enzyme and use essential oil blends for nausea.
Teeth Grinding/Jaw Pain – Stress, anxiety and insomnia can cause severe jaw pain (TMD) from teeth grinding at night. Teeth grinding can also cause headaches and dental problems. Using a dental guard can help protect your teeth and reduce jaw pain from clenching and grinding while you sleep.
Chest Pain – Any type of chest pain should always be checked out by a doctor – don’t automatically assume that your chest pain is a symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety. However, if you’ve ruled out the chance of any other condition, it’s very possible that your chest pain is caused by stress from postpartum depression or anxiety. Chest pain can be a sign of a panic attack, muscle atrophy, dehydration or malnutrition.
Physical Symptoms Caused By Hormonal Imbalances
Hormonal imbalances can cause a lot of physical symptoms in women with postpartum depression. It’s important to get your hormone levels checked and make sure that there isn’t another underlying problem that is causing your hormone levels to be out of balance (such as a thyroid problem). Pregnancy and breastfeeding can cause significant changes in hormone levels. It may take a long time after giving birth for the hormones to regulate, and during that time you can expect several different physical symptoms.
Hair Loss – postpartum hair loss is extremely common with the change of hormone levels after birth. If you’re experiencing hair loss long after the postpartum period is over, then it could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. There are specially formulated hair growth supplements for women with hormonal imbalances that can help your hair stay healthy during the battle with postpartum depression.
Acne – Having hormones that are out of balance is like being a teenager all over again. Adult acne is a symptom of sudden changes in hormone levels and is a common complaint of pregnant and postpartum women. You may need to consider adding an oil free cleanser or blemish treatment to your self-care routine.
Dizziness/Lightheadedness – Changes in hormone levels can cause women to experience bouts of dizziness and lightheadedness. This can also be a symptom of a poor diet and lack of fresh air caused by depression.
Menstrual Changes – This can be a difficult symptom to track for postpartum women. It’s not unusual for women to experience irregular periods after giving birth, especially while breastfeeding. But even exclusive breastfeeding isn’t a guarantee of avoiding periods and ovulation.
With a hormonal imbalance, women with postpartum depression may experience drastic changes in their menstrual cycle, such as painful periods or ovulation and severe PMS. Specialty essential oil blends can help treat the symptoms of PMS naturally. Alternatively, some may experience symptoms similar to menopause such as hot flashes, infertility, irregular or missed periods and spotting.
It’s still important to report these changes to your doctor, though, as you could be suffering from something more severe – such as fibroids or endometriosis. Regardless of what is causing the irregular menstrual cycles, there are natural supplements available to help regulate them.
Dryness – Dry skin, dry eyes and vaginal dryness are symptoms of an estrogen, progesterone or testosterone deficiency. While not a big problem on their own, in combination with some of the other physical symptoms of postpartum depression, it can become a nuisance.
Reduced or non-existent sex drive – low or fluctuating testosterone levels can result in a low libido for women with postpartum depression. But even with balanced hormone levels, sex is normally the last thing on the mind of an exhausted and struggling mother. There are different homeopathic libido boosters available and even the right combination of essential oils can help despite the imbalanced hormones.
One of the most surprising physical symptoms of postpartum depression…
A Weakened Immune System
It’s surprising but also it’s not. A woman with postpartum depression isn’t eating right, exercising or sleeping enough. They’re unlikely to get out of the house very often so they’re deprived of fresh air and sunshine. They wouldn’t be exposed to enough of the world’s bacteria to build up an immunity to it (even worse if they suffer from postpartum OCD).
It should actually be no surprise that a woman with postpartum depression will get sick more often due to a weakened immune system. Being prone to illness can, in turn, increase a woman’s anxiety and tendency to believe that something else is wrong with them.
It can take months or even years before the signs of a weakened immune system start to show, and even longer to build it back up. There are natural ways to boost your immune system despite all the side effects of postpartum depression.
Mental illness can have an effect on all parts of a person’s life. A lot of the time, the illness is invisible and therefore, women with postpartum depression fly under the radar because they aren’t “sick enough.” In fact, many of the physical symptoms listed here are often blamed on something else, rather than recognized as an actual symptom of postpartum depression. By treating the mental aspects of postpartum depression, which includes (but is not limited to) online therapy, eliminating stress, eating right and exercising – a lot of the physical symptoms will also get better.