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Diagnosing Postpartum Depression – What You Should Know

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Diagnosing Postpartum Depression – What You Should Know

Brief overview of all diagnostic categories of postpartum depression

Clinical examination: The clinical examination includes a detailed conversation between the affected woman and an expert to discuss the symptoms.Special tests: Validated screening instruments such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screen (EPDS) or the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) are used.Genetic factors: Genetic testing can provide clues but should not be used as the sole basis for a diagnosis.Environmental and lifestyle factors: Assessing environmental and lifestyle factors can provide clues but should not be viewed in isolation.Alternative diagnostic procedures: Alternative diagnostic procedures can be used in addition, but should never replace conventional medical diagnostics.Differential diagnosis: The differential diagnosis serves to rule out other mental illnesses with similar symptoms.Aftercare: Aftercare includes further care and treatment of the affected woman after the diagnosis has been made.

Clinical examination

Clinical examination when postpartum depression is suspected is crucial and is often the first step in the diagnostic process. It usually involves a detailed discussion between the woman concerned and a psychiatrist or other qualified health professional. In this conversation, the woman’s personal medical history (anamnesis), emotional state, thoughts, behavior and physical symptoms are discussed.

Typical symptoms of postpartum depression include persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, loss of energy and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts. An important distinguishing feature from normal mood swings after birth – the so-called baby blues – is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. While the baby blues usually subside after a few days, the symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and can have a serious impact on everyday life.

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Special tests

Specialized psychometric screening procedures are used to diagnose postpartum depression. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screen (EPDS) and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) are two established questionnaires specifically designed to assess depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation in postpartum women. A score of 10 or higher on these scales indicates an increased risk of postpartum depression and requires further evaluation and, if necessary, treatment. These tools are quick to use, free of charge, and offer physicians and other healthcare providers an efficient way to identify affected women.

Genetic factors

Although genetic factors may play a role in the development of postpartum depression, there are currently no specific genetic tests for diagnosis. Genetic testing can be helpful but should not be used as the sole basis for diagnosis. However, a family history of depression can be seen as an important indication of an increased risk.

Environmental and lifestyle factors

Environmental and lifestyle factors are also taken into account when diagnosing postpartum depression. These include: stressful life events, lack of support from a partner or family, difficulties with breastfeeding and other factors that affect the physical and emotional state of the mother after birth. The assessment of environmental and lifestyle factors can provide clues, but should not be viewed in isolation, as these factors often only make up part of the overall clinical picture.

Alternative Diagnosemethoden

Although there are alternative methods for diagnosing and treating postpartum depression, such as acupuncture or homeopathy, these should be used in addition to conventional medical diagnosis and therapy and should in no way replace them. The effectiveness and safety of these procedures are often not scientifically proven.


Differential diagnosis

Differential diagnosis is an important step in ruling out other mental illnesses that may present with symptoms similar to postpartum depression. These include other forms of depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. A careful history and examination, supported by the use of the screening tools mentioned above, enable the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.


Once the diagnosis has been made, follow-up care is an essential part of therapy. It includes regular follow-up appointments, monitoring symptoms, adjusting treatment plans, and providing resources and support services. The aim is to improve the mother’s well-being and promote positive developments for her and the child.

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