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Understand the Difference Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

July 31, 2018

Judging by the baby product commercials, it looks like all women who have babies are blissfully happy and calm—even just hours or days after giving birth. That may be true for some, but many women experience a range of emotions, including happiness, sadness and anxiety. Top that off with discomfort from labor and delivery, and sleepless nights, it’s no wonder many new (or new again) moms feel they’re on an emotional roller coaster.

Feeling Blue?

Up to 80 percent of women experience some form of baby blues, usually in the first few days after delivery. These mood swings may include weepiness, impatience, anxiety, irritability, fatigue and insomnia, and is believed to be related to the changes in hormones that occur after birth. In addition to those changes, moms are still recovering physically and adjusting to having a newborn.

These feelings may be difficult to talk about. Societal messages (like those in baby product commercials) usually showcase moms who seem to have it all together—so those who don’t may feel they aren’t being good moms.

Fortunately, baby blues tend to last a short time, dissipating in those first few weeks.

Postpartum Depression

For some moms, however, the “blues” are more severe and longer lasting. Postpartum depression has similar symptoms as baby blues, but instead of feeling sad and tearful occasionally, moms may feel sad and tearful most of the time and most days. It may affect their day-to-day function, making it difficult to get out of bed or take care of the baby.

One guide for gauging the severity of your feelings is to ask:WPHBlog_PostpartumDepression_Landi1

  • How often do you feel sad or anxious? (Once a day? Most of the day?)
  • How long does it last? (A few minutes, a day, a week or longer? Baby blues usually end after the first two or three weeks. Postpartum depression can continue.)
  • How intense? (A mild sadness or a deep, grieving sadness?)

A lack of connection with the baby also can be a sign of postpartum depression. For some moms, connection happens right away, and for others it takes some time. Both of those can fall within normal limits, but if a mom is experiencing difficulty attaching to the baby, it can be a sign that something more may be going on.

Although postpartum depression is associated with a sense of sadness, moms often feel anxiety, especially for the baby’s well-being. Moms may worry that the baby will stop breathing, or that the baby will cry at night but no one will hear, or even that the mom will somehow hurt the baby. Moms who experience these anxieties are not alone, and help is available by talking with your doctor, nurse practitioner or baby’s pediatrician. They are familiar with the many adjustments moms of newborns must make and can offer help. Postpartum depression may be treated medicinally, but other options, such as counseling and support groups, are available as well.

How to Seek Help

Whether the symptoms are the milder baby blues or the more serious postpartum depression, it is important to reach out for assistance. Family and friends can provide a listening ear and help. Someone could take the baby for a walk around the block so mom can take a shower. Someone could do the weekly grocery store run or play with an older sibling while baby and mom take a nap. 

Keep in mind that sadness after the arrival of a new baby also can affect dads. They too must adjust to a new little person in the midst, interrupted sleep and changes in the family. This emotional adjustment also can occur after adoption.

Having a baby can be wonderful, but there are other very human emotions that parents—especially moms — experience as well. Recognizing and accepting that, and getting the assistance needed, will go a long way to making this a positive transition.

Connect With a Support Group

Mothers Matter is a weekly emotional support group for pregnant and postpartum women, providing peer-to-peer and emotional support as well as a safe place to discuss all things motherhood. Facilitated by a licensed clinician, the group helps mothers facing a variety of situations such as stress, adjusting to parenthood, baby blues, and perinatal and postpartum depression or anxiety. 

Get Connected

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