Sometimes, the dreams and expectations you have about how you'll feel when you have a baby don't always become reality after giving birth. Many new mothers expect to experience joy and wonderful feelings once they have a baby, but then find that their true postpartum experience doesn't match up.
If you feel this way, you're not alone.
In this article, we'll explore some of these feelings and outline some of the differences between what's known as "baby blues" and the more serious postpartum depression, and how you can get help.
The difference between postpartum depression and “baby blues”
A person who gives birth is likely to experience what is known as "baby blues." In fact, 70-80% of new mothers experience them after giving birth. While it's not easy to experience, the good news is that “baby blues” usually go away after a few days to two weeks and are different from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression (or perinatal depression) is a serious mental health condition that begins anytime during pregnancy up to one year after giving birth. This condition is more severe than “baby blues” and often requires more in-depth treatment to heal and prevent the symptoms from becoming long-term. Unlike “baby blues,” postpartum depression symptoms do not resolve on their own after a few days to two weeks. While the symptoms of "baby blues" can sometimes feel as severe as postpartum depression symptoms, they will subside in a short period of time.
Common questions about “baby blues”
What are the signs and symptoms of “baby blues”?
When experiencing symptoms of “baby blues,” you may feel a lack of motivation to fulfill your basic needs such as eating, showering, brushing your hair, or changing out of sweatpants. You may feel anxious, irritable, exhausted, and overwhelmed. These symptoms may be due to the extreme fluctuations in hormones your body experiences from giving birth, as well as the lack of sleep that comes with having a newborn.
You may also experience mood swings and quickly go from happy to sad and back again. You may feel proud of yourself for how well you’re doing as a new mom, and then minutes later be in tears because you feel like you’re doing everything wrong as a mother and are not cut out for the job.
Other symptoms of “baby blues” can include:
· Crying without knowing why
· Difficulty falling or staying asleep
· Appetite changes
· Inability to concentrate
· Fear for the future
· Negative thoughts about yourself or your baby
How can I tell if I have “baby blues” or postpartum depression?
Symptoms of “baby blues” can often be confused with symptoms of postpartum depression. While the symptoms may overlap or be similar, those associated with postpartum depression are more severe and persistent.
If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, or begin during your pregnancy or over two weeks after childbirth, they may be different than "baby blues.” If you’re concerned about your symptoms, it’s important to speak with a professional. There are a variety of depression screening tools your provider may use to help determine if you have postpartum depression, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. If you score a 10 or higher on this scale, it indicates a risk for depression, and you can seek treatment with a therapist who will monitor your symptoms, look deeper into what you’re experiencing, and provide you with resources and treatment options.
How do I treat “baby blues”?
While “baby blues” are short-lived, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms while you’re going through it. Therapy can be a great option.
While “baby blues” doesn’t typically require medication or intense therapy, there are lifestyle changes that a therapist can recommend and help you implement.
Some of these lifestyle changes may include getting more sleep, reaching out for help, building and using a support system, engaging in self-care practices, getting enough sunlight and Vitamin D, eating a healthy diet, abstaining from substance use, being kind to yourself, and checking in with your obstetrician and/or primary care provider.
If I have symptoms of “baby blues,” should I seek therapy or wait?
It’s never a bad idea to speak with a therapist if you’re not feeling like your usual self, or are concerned about your well-being. If you’re feeling unwell, waiting two more weeks to determine if your symptoms will subside or if you should see a therapist could rob you of two weeks’ progress from treatment or of some ways to help manage “baby blues.”
A licensed therapist can bring you peace of mind and lighten the burdens you may be feeling as a new mother. Whether you’re certain of the cause of your symptoms or not, a mental health professional is there to help you. Since symptoms of “baby blues” can feel similar to postpartum depression, working with a professional to shed light on your symptoms can be quite beneficial.
How can I help prevent “baby blues” and postpartum depression?
While we know that “baby blues” are related to hormonal fluctuations that level out shortly after giving birth, more research is needed to determine the most effective methods for preventing postpartum depression.
Some research and professional reports suggest that women with a history of postpartum depression can combat the onset of symptoms by being proactive about creating a sleep plan before giving birth. Getting enough sleep has been suggested to help combat the onset of perinatal mood disorders. Learning soothing and sleep-promoting methods for your baby can also potentially help lower the risk of developing postpartum depression and other perinatal disorders.
While “baby blues” and postpartum depression can be difficult to endure, help and relief are available through the support of a licensed therapist. It’s okay to ask for help and support during pregnancy or after giving birth, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent if you do. In fact, it makes you brave and responsible to want the best for your baby and yourself.