When The Baby Blues Turn Into Something More

Giving birth to a new baby can initiate a roller coaster ride of emotions- from excitement and heart-exploding love to worry, stress, and anxiety. Many women are told that they may experience “the Baby Blues” (a short bought of sadness that should clear up after a couple of weeks after giving birth), but what happens if those typical feelings of sadness and stress do not go away after a few weeks? How can you tell the difference between the Baby Blues and its more severe older sister, postpartum depression (PPD)? Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two so that you are able to tell the difference and get the help you need if PPD does become a part of your postpartum experience.

 

The Baby Blues

The Baby Blues are usually mentioned by your doctor or nursing staff during your pregnancy and after delivery, but what exactly ARE the Baby Blues? Let’s take a look:

  • Characterized by mood swings, feeling sad, overwhelmed, or irritable, crying, feeling anxious, experiencing reduced concentration, minor appetite shifts, and minor trouble sleeping (even when baby is sleeping)

  • Caused by hormonal shifts after giving birth

  • Symptoms begin in the first few days to two weeks after giving birth

  • Symptoms usually last around 2 weeks

  • Effects 50-80% of postpartum women

  • Symptoms clear up without any intervention or treatment

The Baby Blues are very common and clear up on their own by the two week mark, but when symptoms stick around, or start up further into the first year postpartum, though, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

 

Postpartum Depression

At first, postpartum depression may be mistaken for the Baby Blues, but the symptoms become stronger, don’t go away after two weeks, and may begin to interfere with your everyday activities including your ability to care for your baby. Let’s take a look at Postpartum Depression and how it differs from the Baby Blues:

  • In addition to the symptoms of the Baby Blues, you may experience lack of interest in your baby, difficulty bonding with your baby, extreme guilt, shame, or feelings of worthlessness, extreme changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping even when given the opportunity to do so, overwhelming fatigue, thoughts of hopelessness, thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, feeling incompetent or inadequate to tend to your baby’s needs, extreme worry about your baby’s health*, lack of emotion, frequent crying

  • Many factors contribute to the development of PPD including hormonal shifts after giving birth, sleep deprivation, lack of proper nutrition, having a baby with high needs, health issues that the mother or baby may be experiencing, isolation of the new mother, lack of support for the mother, personal or family history of depression, experiencing a traumatic birth, having trouble with breastfeeding, having multiple babies (twins, etc.) or other major life stressors that may be occurring concurrently with the postpartum time period

  • Symptoms usually begin within the first two months after giving birth but may begin at any time during the first year postpartum or even while you are still pregnant

  • Symptoms persist longer than two weeks and interfere with your day to day functioning

  • Effects 1 in 7 postpartum mothers within the first three months, and is believed to effect up to 1 in 5 women by the first year postpartum

  • Postpartum depression is treatable. For some women, PPD may clear up on its own, but for most, talk therapy, support groups, medication, and/or increasing the amount of social support they have are needed to help women get back to feeling like themselves again

 

Treatment

Keeping an open line of communication with your doctor is key- he or she will be able to help you distinguish between the Baby Blues or PPD (or other postpartum disorders), as well as give you referrals for professionals who can help you. Generally, you should reach out for professional help if:

  • Your symptoms don’t fade after two weeks

  • Your symptoms seem to be getting worse

  • Your symptoms are interfering with getting everyday tasks done

  • Your symptoms are making it difficult to take care of your baby

  • Your symptoms include thoughts of harming your baby or yourself

While PPD is commonly characterized as a postpartum mother’s experience, it is important to note that fathers can also experience postpartum depression. In fact, it is estimated that 10-20% of men experience postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD (more on anxiety and OCD later) during the period of time that their partner is pregnant through the first year after the baby is born. High levels of stress, changing routines and roles, and sleep and nutritional deprivation can affect any parent and bring on PPD symptoms.

Postpartum depression does NOT make you a bad parent, does NOT mean you are weak, and is certainly NOT your fault. It is a very common, very treatable side effect of having a new baby that you can experience after having your first baby or your tenth! One of the hardest lessons of parenthood is learning that taking care of yourself is one of the most important things for your family, so if you believe you may have postpartum depression, don’t wait to contact your doctor and begin the process of feeling better, and feeling like yourself, again.

 

*Extreme worry may indicate Postpartum Anxiety, a separate, but often co-occuring disorder.

Important Information

If you’re experiencing a psychiatric emergency, please immediately call the National suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

If you’d like to access non-emergency support, you can call the Postpartum support international warmline (will help you find support, resources, and handle non-emergency situations) 1-800-944-4773 or send a text to 503-894-9453.

For more resources, and for online mother’s support groups, online father’s support groups, and support in additional languages beyond English, please head over to postpartum.net.

Elyse ShullMental Health