By Mary Fetzer
Women with ADHD are at a higher risk than women without ADHD to be diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), according to a recent study conducted in Sweden. Researchers found that mothers with ADHD who have no history of depression are 24% more likely to be diagnosed with PPD than mothers without ADHD who have no history of depression.
Postpartum depression can happen during pregnancy or the first year after a mother gives birth. It can include strong feelings of worry, sadness, shame and fear. It is the most common complication after having a baby, affecting about one in seven mothers who are pregnant or have recently given birth.
More than 77,000 pregnant women participated in the Swedish study to determine whether pre-pregnancy ADHD was correlated with a risk of developing PPD. Those with ADHD were compared to those without ADHD. And the researchers considered — and removed any possible effects from — the participants’ race and ethnicity, social vulnerability, maternal age, single or multiple births, and whether they reported substance use, food scarcity, intimate partner violence and stress. The rate of PPD diagnoses was 6.4% among mothers with an ADHD diagnosis versus 5.2% among mothers without an ADHD diagnosis.
The researchers’ work was prompted by both a March 2023 study that found an increase in ADHD diagnoses among women of childbearing age and 2018 research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that self-reported postpartum depression symptoms were increasing.
Living with ADHD means managing symptoms like impulsivity, inattention and emotional regulation issues on a daily basis. During the postpartum period, these challenges can be amplified by hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, disrupted routines and the additional stressors of caring for a newborn. All of this can contribute to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and depression. Women from the Swedish study diagnosed with PPD described struggles with overwhelming sadness, anxiety and a sense of disconnect from their newborn.
Real Mom Experiences
Daniela Aachen, a travel expert and co-founder of Discover Italy, based in Berlin, Germany, has ADHD and experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her child.
“As a woman with ADHD, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to manage the stressors of life while also managing symptoms of a mental health disorder,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to have a good support system in place after my child was born to help me cope with the feelings of depression I was having, but I know that not all women with ADHD are so lucky.
Aachen believes it makes sense that women with ADHD are more likely to experience PPD.
“Women with ADHD can feel overwhelmed as a result of the shift in lifestyle that often occurs after having a baby, and there can be a lack of understanding from partners or friends,” she says. “My ADHD symptoms were heightened, and I struggled more with organization and staying on task.”
Ginelle Krummey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor at Growth Point Collaborative Counseling and Group Facilitation in Marshall, S.C. She’s also the mom of a one-year-old who experienced the interaction of ADHD and PPD.
“I do not have severe ADHD, but I do have neurodivergent traits,” she says. “I experience
plenty of ADHD struggles: impulsiveness, prioritization difficulties, low frustration tolerance, problems following through, errors in executive functioning and hyperfocus.”
The responsibilities of caring for a newborn clashed with Krummey’s typical approach to getting things done, which she describes as a more spontaneous and follow-your-nose approach, doing one thing after the other in a string of impulses.
“Doing this with a child was nearly impossible,” she says. “With the brain fog of hormonal shifts and resulting emotional instability from loss of sleep, nothing felt good or satisfying.”
Krummey says these feelings led to depression, and she would reach the end of each day feeling let down by her circumstances.
“I found myself grieving that I hadn’t done anything I considered valuable,” she says. “It was impossible to be satisfied by the miraculous reality that I was keeping a child alive with my body alone because there was a new set of demands impeding my ability to follow my own interests.”
Recognizing the Symptoms of PPD
Postpartum depression can interfere with a mother’s ability to care for her baby and handle other daily tasks. There are many symptoms; and while they often occur immediately after someone gives birth, they can appear during pregnancy or for up to a year after delivery.
- Depressed mood, severe mood swings or crying too much
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming tiredness or loss of energy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Reduced ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Left untreated, PPD can last for months.
Not all women with ADHD will experience PPD, and there are steps that can be taken to manage symptoms, says Aachen. Those steps include seeking help from mental health professionals and engaging in supportive activities like attending therapy or support groups. Focusing on coping strategies and developing healthy relationships can create an environment of support and understanding that helps mothers manage their mental health, she says.
“I found comfort in talking to other mothers who had gone through similar experiences and this helped me feel less alone,” Aachen says. “It gave me strength and helped me to manage my feelings of depression. Not only did I have a better understanding of how to cope, but I also had an invaluable support system in place.”
Ila Dayananda is chief medical officer and obstetrician at Oula Health maternity clinics in New York City. She says that, while every mind is unique, it’s important to understand that ADHD is a significant risk factor to consider for postpartum depression.
“Every woman — but especially those with known risk factors like ADHD — can benefit from a solid support system of family, friends and medical professionals, particularly in the postpartum period,” Dayananda says. “Consultation from not just an OB/GYN but also a mental health professional can offer necessary guidance, diagnosis and resources.”
Amy Braun, a licensed clinical professional counselor with a private practice in Chicago, encourages women who are having issues to look for care designed for new moms.
“The good news is that there are perinatal mental health-certified therapists who specialize in working with new moms with both ADHD and postpartum depression,” she says. “ADHD symptoms during the postpartum period are unique and can have different presentations. It is important that moms with ADHD know that there is help and they can feel better.”