Testing and Diagnosis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Editor’s Note: For simplicity and ease of reading, in this community, we use the term “mothers” to refer to pregnant people and those who have given birth. But we want to acknowledge that not all people who can get pregnant identify as women and that some people who give birth identify as men or nonbinary. We also recognize that parenthood exists in many forms, including adoptive and foster parenthood. Health Union strives to create an inclusive space while providing accurate health information.

Becoming a new parent can be an amazing journey filled with joy, love, and excitement. But this journey can also bring challenges, including the possibility of postpartum depression (PPD). Postpartum depression is a common mental health condition that affects some new parents.1,2

While there is no 1 test used to diagnose PPD, it is a condition with distinct, treatable symptoms. Doctors combine certain exams and tests to rule out other conditions and to make a diagnosis of postpartum depression.1-3

Signs and symptoms

Postpartum depression is more than just the "baby blues." While many mothers have mood swings and sadness in the days following childbirth, PPD is more intense and lasting. It often interferes with daily life.1-3

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Symptoms of PPD include:1-3

  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Severe anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Trouble bonding with the baby

Physical exam and health history

Typically, the first step in diagnosing PPD is a thorough physical exam and health history. Your ob-gyn, primary care provider (PCP), or mental health provider can perform this step. The physical exam and health history help determine whether other medical issues might be causing your symptoms.4

During the physical exam, your health provider will check your height, weight, heart rate, and blood pressure. They will look at your eyes, ears, and skin. And they will listen to you breathe and press on your belly.2,4

Your doctor also will ask about your health history, including:2,4

  • Past surgeries
  • Past medical conditions
  • Ongoing health concerns
  • Current symptoms (physical and emotional)
  • Family history of mental health disorders like depression or anxiety
  • Any medicines you are taking

Mental health assessment

Your doctor will ask you about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences since giving birth. Being open and honest during this visit is vital to getting an accurate diagnosis. If you have symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks after childbirth, your doctor may diagnose you with PPD.1-3

Doctors use several tools to complete a mental health assessment, primarily the DSM-5 and EPDS.1-3

DSM-5 diagnostic criteria

Diagnosing postpartum depression typically involves referring to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This manual gives mental health experts a set of criteria to determine whether a person may have PPD. These criteria help distinguish between PPD and other conditions that might share similar symptoms.2

Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)

A helpful tool that healthcare specialists use to assess PPD is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). This simple questionnaire consists of 10 statements that describe the mother's thoughts and emotions.1,2

By scoring the responses, your provider can gauge the severity of potential PPD. It is important to note that the EPDS does not provide a diagnosis. Rather, it serves as a screening tool that helps healthcare professionals determine the need for further testing.1,2

Blood tests to check thyroid function

Thyroid problems sometimes mimic the symptoms of PPD. To rule out any thyroid problems, your doctor may do blood tests to check your thyroid function. The thyroid gland produces hormones that help regulate mood and energy levels. Making sure they are within normal ranges is important for an accurate diagnosis.1

Postpartum ob-gyn visit

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all mothers receive a follow-up ob-gyn visit within 3 weeks of giving birth. The purpose of this visit is to:5

  • Assess how you and the baby are doing
  • Address any concerns
  • Make sure you both are healing and recovering well

If you are experiencing signs of PPD that have not gone away after 2 weeks, do not wait until your follow-up visit. Tell your doctor right away. The earlier PPD is diagnosed and treated, the better.5

Other things to consider

Postpartum depression does not affect just mothers. Fathers and partners can also experience depressive symptoms after the birth of a child. While diagnosis for partners is not as standard, it is equally important for them to seek support if they are feeling depressed or anxious.1

If you or a loved one has symptoms that could be postpartum depression, reach out to a healthcare professional. With proper diagnosis and support, PPD can be treated and managed.