Do I Have Postpartum Blues or Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum Blues vs. Postpartum Depression

mom and newborn
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Having a baby is a monumental, transformative moment in life. Your body has just spent nine months growing and gestating new life, which is no small task and can take a major toll on your body and mind. You labored and birthed your baby, which is one of the most intense physical experiences your body will ever endure.

Then, suddenly, you have a baby, and even if your baby is everything you ever dreamed of, it’s a huge change to welcome a new baby into your life — not to mention the fact that you are likely functioning on very little sleep, your hormones are ebbing and flowing all over the place, your eating habits have likely changed drastically, and your emotional state is rapidly adjusting to the reality of parenting your baby.

Given all the combined factors, it’s no wonder new moms experience strong mood swings in the days and weeks following the birth of their babies!

This mood shift, usually referred to as postpartum blues, or “the baby blues,” is very common — the majority of mothers experience it, actually. Still, as common as it, many mothers wonder if what they are experiencing is normal and how best to cope with it. What's more, mothers frequently wonder if what they are experiencing isn’t just the baby blues, but a mental health issue like postpartum depression.

What Are Postpartum Blues?

Postpartum blues are extremely common. It’s estimated that 50-85% of new mothers experience postpartum blues after giving birth.

Because of how universal the experience is, postpartum blues are not considered a psychiatric illness, but rather a common postpartum symptom, like afterbirth pains and postpartum bleeding.

What Causes Postpartum Blues?

No one knows for sure what causes postpartum blues, but experts have some theories, including:

Hormones

When you are pregnant, your body produces large amounts of estrogen and progesterone to support your pregnancy and help your baby grow. Within the first 24 hours after birth, the levels of these hormones rapidly plummet back down to their pre-pregnancy levels. As such, you may experience mood changes similar to those you experience during PMS and your period, such as weepiness and grumpiness.

At the same time that estrogen and progesterone levels are quickly decreasing, the hormones that support lactation — prolactin and oxytocin — are rising. Although these hormones are usually associated with happy and peaceful feelings, they still constitute a change in the general hormonal make-up of your body, which can cause mood changes.

Sleep Disturbances

After you’ve had a baby, especially in the first few days and weeks, your sleep is likely all over the place. If you gave birth in the hospital, you may not have slept much at all, due to the different (and often loud!) environment. Even when you get home, your baby will be up at all hours of the night to eat, and also because they have not yet learned the difference between night and day. All of this can be very difficult to adjust to and can lead to irritable moods and disorientation.

Routine Changes

In addition to your sleep schedule being basically turned upside down, tending to your other basic needs such as eating and even bathing get totally thrown out of whack when you’ve had a baby. You may not be eating often enough, and you may not be able to make healthy food choices. The things that used to set the tone for your day — a cup of coffee upon waking, exercise, a shower — are likely difficult to accomplish right now. All of these changes can add up and affect your mood.

Changes In Your Identity

Perhaps the aspect of postpartum that rarely gets discussed is how it can affect your self-identity, especially if this is your first child. Going from a person who had some control over their life, their career, and just the minutia of their day-to-day life … to a person who is suddenly at the mercy of a crying, sleepless infant, can be jarring, to say the least. It’s no wonder new mothers’ feelings are all over the place after giving birth.

Symptoms of Postpartum Blues

Every new mom experiences postpartum blues in their own way, but there are some symptoms that are common, such as:

  • Seeming to cry over even the littlest things
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Trouble eating
  • Feeling cranky or “off”
  • Trouble settling to sleep, even when you have time for it
  • Feeling generally overwhelmed
  • Feeling uncertain about your ability to care for your baby
  • Impatience
  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Experiencing sudden waves of sadness
  • Feeling joy one minute and sadness the next
  • Irritability and grumpiness

How Long Do the “Baby Blues” Last?

One of the most important distinctions between the “baby blues” and postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression, anxiety, and psychosis, is that the “baby blues” are temporary.

Here’s what we know about how long the “baby blues” lasts and what it means when your symptoms persist beyond this timeframe.

  • Some women only experience postpartum blues for the first few days after giving birth
  • Symptoms may peak at about four or five days after giving birth
  • For some women, postpartum blues last up to two weeks after giving birth
  • Experiencing symptoms that last up to two weeks is considered normal
  • Symptoms that last more than two weeks might signal that you have developed a postpartum mood disorder, and it’s worth discussing any concerns with your healthcare provider

How to Cope With Postpartum Blues

Just because postpartum blues are normal and symptoms generally mild and temporary doesn’t mean that it’s easy to endure!

Here’s how to cope if your postpartum blues are bringing you down:

  • Assure yourself that what you are feeling is normal and has been experienced by almost all new mommies
  • Talk about your feelings with a trusted loved one
  • Join a new mom’s support group or connect online with other moms
  • Remember that there is no shame in asking for help with housework and meal prep
  • Get outside at least once a day, even if all you do is walk around the block a few times
  • Make sleep a priority in whatever way you can, whether that means sleeping when the baby sleeps or having your partner, family member, or other helper hold your baby for an hour while you doze on the couch
  • Cut yourself a lot of slack when it comes to chores and general upkeep of your house; you just had a baby and you can’t expect to do it all
  • Limit visitors or other stressful situations
  • Try to eat regularly; make sure you are getting adequate protein and are eating easily digestible foods

Is It Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

Many moms who are experiencing postpartum blues are understandably concerned that their symptoms might mean that they are experiencing postpartum depression or another postpartum mood disorder, like postpartum anxiety and postpartum psychosis.

In general, there are two ways you know that what you are experiencing is postpartum blues and not postpartum depression:

  1. Postpartum blues are temporary and symptoms usually disappear by two weeks postpartum
  2. The symptoms of postpartum blues are milder than those of postpartum depression, and don’t interfere with your ability to function or care for your baby

Postpartum depression — which affects as many as 1 in 5 women — does share some of the same moodiness as postpartum blues, but symptoms are generally more intense and disturbing.

Common Postpartum Depression Symptoms

  • Crying excessively
  • Feeling numb and disconnected from your life
  • Extremely low energy, wanting to sleep all the time
  • Trouble bonding with your baby
  • Thoughts of self-harm; thoughts of harming your baby
  • Obsessive, racing, scary thoughts
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and friends
  • Low self-worth, feeling like you have failed as a mother
  • Decreased appetite
  • Wanting to escape your life
  • Anger, irritability, and restlessness
  • Suicidal ideation

What to Do If You Suspect You Have Postpartum Depression

If you have symptoms of postpartum depression — even if it hasn't been two weeks yet and even if your first postpartum check-up is weeks away — call your doctor or midwife right away. It’s important that postpartum depression and any postpartum mood disorders be addressed quickly, before they become worse.

Postpartum depression is relatively common, and your healthcare provider will not be judging you if you share your symptoms. Their job is to help you feel better, and there are many successful ways to treat postpartum depression, including talk therapy, group therapy, and medication. You are not alone and help is out there.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or a desire to harm your baby, it’s imperative that you dial 911 and seek emergency care ASAP. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

A Word from Verywell

When you have a baby, attention suddenly shifts from you and your adorable pregnant belly to your darling newborn. That’s natural, but this change can leave many moms feeling lost in the shuffle. How often do people ask new moms how they are feeling — not just physically, but emotionally too?

Experiencing postpartum blues is very common, yet the symptoms often take many women by surprise. Many new moms feel ashamed that instead of feeling joy and happiness, they are flooded with sadness and tears. They feel guilty about these feelings and don’t always share how they are feeling, which usually only intensifies the feelings and the fears.

It’s important to learn the difference between postpartum blues and postpartum depression, how to know if your “baby blues” are really postpartum depression, and when to get help if you suspect that you may be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. However, for many of us, postpartum blues are common, expected, and really do pass on their own. Simply knowing this can be very reassuring and will help you get through the experience.

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