Baby blues vs postpartum depression

After nine months of pregnancy, many women just can’t wait to get back to normal. It can be really hard to know what’s normal with a new baby in the mix though. For many moms, the road to “normal” can involve some tough moments like the “baby blues” or another condition called postpartum depression.

What are the baby blues?

The “baby blues” can affect up to 80% of new mothers, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The baby blues occur most commonly within the first 2 weeks following delivery and can involve feelings of sadness or moodiness. The symptoms do not interfere with the way new parents live their lives and often resolve on their own. Although the baby blues can make a person feel depressed, a clinical diagnosis of postpartum depression requires a different set of criteria. Having baby blues does increase a woman’s risk of postpartum depression and may progress to postpartum depression if they last beyond 2 weeks and start to have an impact on day-to-day functioning.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is a deep feeling of sadness or despair in new moms, and is far more intense than the mood swings or crying that many notice in the days or weeks after giving birth. In rare cases, new moms can experience a more serious condition known as postpartum psychosis in the weeks following birth too.

What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?

Although the symptoms can vary from woman to woman, these are some common ones to look out for:

  • Sadness
  • Overly anxious or worried
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of interest in things usually liked
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Energy loss or fatigue
  • Concentration problems
  • Appetite change
  • Trouble socializing with family, friends, or baby
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or baby

What causes postpartum depression?

Researchers are as of yet unable to pinpoint exactly what causes postpartum depression, though there are many possible contributing factors, such as rapid hormonal shifts after childbirth, sleep deprivation, change in psychosocial stressors, and changed sense of self and responsibilities. Though there is no direct cause that has been identified, healthcare providers have discovered some risk factors involved with the onset of postpartum depression, although it quite often seems to be just the (bad) luck of the draw:

  • History of depression, bipolar disorder, other mental illness
  • Personal or family history of postpartum depression
  • Women who struggled with a crisis or had a complication during pregnancy and/or shortly after birth
  • Those who are or feel unsupported during and after pregnancy
  • Women with financial or personal problems
  • Women who struggle with a substance use disorder

Tips for postpartum depression

If you believe you have or are at risk for postpartum depression, it’s best to call your healthcare provider right away. Postpartum depression is slightly different in nature than regular depression, so it’s important to have somebody knowledgeable guide you through it. Talk to your partner, friends, or other family about your depression if you need to, as bouncing your feelings off people is a great way to begin the recovery process. 

It’s also important to know that, while the clinical definition has fairly strict parameters, the experience of depression after giving birth often doesn’t start in the first few days, weeks, or even months after delivery. In fact, in practice, postpartum depression can occur any time in the first year or so after having your little one. It’s also possible for a non-birthing parent to develop postpartum depression – this includes dads, adoptive parents, and foster parents.

The bottom line

Postpartum depression is a very serious condition that can have wide-ranging effects on the whole family, so you should call your healthcare provider if you begin to suspect that you may be developing postpartum depression. Early intervention and treatment is the best way to get in front of postpartum depression and help manage its effects. 

Read more
  • “Postpartum Depression Facts.” NIMH. NIH Publication No. 13-8000, National Institutes of Mental Health, NIH, HHS, Jun 2016. Web.
  • Dorothy K Sit, Katherine L Wisner. “The Identification of Postpartum Depression.” Clin Obstet Gynecol. 52(3):456-468. Web. Sep 2009.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum depression.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. August 11, 2015. Web.
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