Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression: How to Tell the Difference

The pregnancy physicians at Gainesville's All About Women discuss how to discern between the usual baby blues and the more serious postpartum depression

Giving birth to a new baby is a wonderful time in life, and it's also a major transition for a woman physically, emotionally, and socially. There's a lot happening and very little time to process all the changes that are occurring.

Usually, amidst the overwhelming joy of a baby, women at some point experience what's often called the baby blues. While the baby blues are normal and soon pass, the feelings of sadness and anxiety can surprise a new mother. She may wonder if she's suffering from postpartum depression, a serious mood disorder that requires medical attention.

Here, we'll examine both the baby blues and postpartum depression in order to highlight their differences and pinpoint exactly when you should seek help.

The Baby Blues: Normal and Brief

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, (ACOG) the baby blues, or postpartum blues, usually occurs two to three days after birth.

A woman's body is undergoing a major hormonal shift after birth as progesterone and estrogen levels sharply decrease. She's also transitioning into caring for a new life and probably not getting a lot of sleep. These factors can lead a new mom to feeling a little "blue". She may experience:

  • Crying for no reason
  • Feelings of sadness
  • Anxiety or feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of appetite or trouble sleeping
  • Mood Swings

The symptoms of the baby blues are normal and usually subside within a week or two following birth.

Postpartum Depression: Signs You Require Help

Sometimes a woman has more than just the baby blues. The American Psychological Association (APA) estimates that up to one in seven new mothers experience postpartum depression (PPD).

The APA classifies postpartum depression as a serious mood disorder that requires treatment. If you think you or a loved one has postpartum depression, it's important to meet with your doctor as soon as possible to begin treatment.

Mothers with postpartum depression may feel:

  • Inadequate, worthless, or guilty
  • As if they're failing at motherhood
  • Hopeless and profoundly sad
  • Rage or anger
  • Overwhelmed or unable to cope

A woman may feel some or all of these emotions with the baby blues, but they're generally less severe and are gone within a couple of weeks after birth. The feelings of PPD most commonly set in 2 to 3 weeks after delivery, but can appear anytime within the first year after giving birth.

While it can be difficult to know how someone is feeling, partners and family members of women with PPD may notice that she exhibits some of the following behaviors:

  • A lack of interest in the baby or, on the contrary, excessive anxiety over the baby's health
  • An inability to care for the baby or for herself
  • Excessive crying, restlessness, irritability, or mood swings
  • Changes in sleep or appetite, such as forgetting to eat or overeating
  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating

Postpartum depression occurs with first-time moms, as well as mothers who already have children. Women who have had PPD before are at a much higher risk (41% higher, according to the APA) of developing it again after subsequent pregnancies. Those women with history of depression are also at higher risk for PPD.

Causes of Postpartum Depression

The medical community thinks that PPD is likely caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • Lifestyle factors. Mothers without strong support systems, who are very young or older, who have financial or employment problems, who have recently moved or experienced a death in the family may be more likely to experience PPD.

  • A mother whose baby is hard to comfort, who must stay in the hospital for a prolonged period after birth, or who has special needs.
  • A personal or family history of depression

  • A mother who had preexisting doubts or reservations about parenthood, who had a dissatisfying birth experience or a prolonged recovery time.

  • Changes in hormone levels and fatigue

Prevention and Treatment of Postpartum Depression

It's important for new moms to eat nutritious food, to receive any needed breastfeeding support, to get as much sleep as possible, and to receive help around the house with chores and other children. Take advantage of any resources available to you, be it through your family or religious group, your local health department, or the hospital where you delivered.

All new moms can benefit from a support group for new mothers. These groups can help validate your experiences and can help you feel less alone in your struggles. They may also help new moms with meals or childcare. If you need help locating a mothering group, ask your healthcare provider or family pediatrician for recommendations.

Also, let your doctor or midwife know if you have a history of depression.
If you're on an antidepressant before or during pregnancy, talk with your physician about if you should continue taking medication after birth.

It's important for women with postpartum depression to know that they're not alone and that their condition is treatable. If you're experiencing any signs of PPD, call your pregnancy physician or midwife as soon as possible to begin treatment. Treatment usually includes talk therapy and possibly an anti-depressant, some of which are safe to take while breastfeeding.

The obstetricians and midwives at Gainesville's All About Women are here to provide compassionate care for women throughout their postpartum period. If you have concerns about your well-being, contact our office and schedule an appointment today, or continue browsing our knowledge center and blog to learn more.