Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

One of the most significant life changing events a woman can experience is the birth of a child. Almost every part of a woman’s life is affected by childbirth, from physical and hormonal shifts to emotional, psychological, and identity changes…most of which happen within a very short period of time and all at once.  Childbirth comes with a bag of mixed emotions, some of which are unexpected while others show up unannounced.  Joy, excitement, fear, worry, and feeling overwhelmed are common emotions felt among new moms.  Within the first couple of days of childbirth, women often go through what is termed “baby blues”, which can be experienced through insomnia, mood swings, crying spells, irritability, lack of concentration, appetite issues, and anxiety.  “Baby blues” are typically short-term and subside within two weeks.  

However, about 3 million moms each year develop a more severe form of the “baby blues” after giving birth that mimics the symptoms of a major depressive disorder.  Postpartum depression should not be viewed as a sign of weakness in a female because a handful of the common causes are outside of a woman’s control.  For one, women’s bodies go through a substantial drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, which can lead to feelings of depression.  Secondly, the stressors that comes with caring for a newborn baby (lack of sleep, anxiety, decrease in feeling attractive, a sense of loss of control, and an identity crisis) can be very daunting and difficult for some women to manage effectively. 

So what are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
•    Sad or depressed mood
•    Excessive tearfulness
•    Difficulty bonding with your baby
•    Isolation from family and friends
•    Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
•    Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
•    Fatigue or loss of energy
•    Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
•    Feelings of irritability and anger
•    Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
•    Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
•    Severe anxiety and panic attacks
•    Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
•    Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
•    In some severe cases, psychosis (hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia) 
Often new moms assume that their symptoms are just the “baby blues”, especially in the days and weeks following childbirth; however once symptoms continue to last longer that two weeks and start to affect a woman’s ability to function and care for herself and her child appropriately, postpartum depression is likely a more appropriate case.  Postpartum depression can actually be experienced up to six months following childbirth, even if it is not felt immediately.  

Women who notice any of these more severe, longer lasting symptoms should be treated by a professional, whether it is through medication prescribed by an OBGYN or by a skilled therapist through counseling.  In less common cases, women who experience postpartum psychosis or thoughts of harm themselves or their child need to seek immediate treatment in order to ensure safety.  Women are encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK; 911; their mental health or medical provider; or a family or friend. 

Regardless of whether new moms go through the “baby blues” or postpartum depression, self-care can go a long way.  This means getting enough rest, eliciting help from support systems, connecting with other moms, and avoiding substances that can alter moods.  

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT