Hormonal changes from giving birth can lead to a world of new experiences, the least of which is figuring out how to care for your tiny new human. For many the hormonal crash can bring about a host of unwanted feelings including anxiety, restlessness, and bouts of crying but these feelings usually go away over time.
In fact, up to 85% of new mothers experience some form of the “baby blues” as they are known. But what happens when temporary turns to long term? When those unwanted feelings just won’t go away and instead of joy you’re feeling worthless and hopeless? How do you tell the baby blues from more long-lasting forms of depression such as postpartum depression and maternal depression?
In this blog post we’ll go over what each of these highly treatable, but serious conditions are, how to tell the difference, and most importantly, how to seek support. Anyone can be affected and many suffer in silence because they don’t know if what they are experiencing is normal. We’re here to help!
What are the Baby Blues?
Post childbirth depression, or the “baby blues”, is extremely common and considered a postpartum symptom (like postpartum bleeding) rather than a psychiatric illness.
No one knows the exact cause, or why it happens, but many experts have speculated that the change in hormones coupled with sleep disturbances and new routines can throw your system out of whack and may lead to postpartum blues.
An important distinction is that the baby blues are temporary and only persist for a couple of weeks after giving birth. When your symptoms persist beyond this timeframe, it might signal something more serious like a postpartum mood disorder.
Baby blues vs Postpartum depression vs Maternal depression
At first glance, many of the symptoms of these conditions look similar and it can be hard to differentiate between them. We’ve noted the key differences between them below so you know what to watch out for.
The baby blues are a short-lived period of time, usually within the first two weeks after giving birth, where you may experience feelings of sadness, moodiness, mild ups and downs, and feeling teary. These feelings are extremely common and can affect any parents, regardless of age, race, income, culture, or education level.
The baby blues typically go away on their own and only last a couple of weeks. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, you may have developed a postpartum mood disorder and should consult your healthcare provider.
When the strong feelings and mild ups and downs of those first couple of weeks become more intense and don’t go away, you may be dealing with something more serious than the baby blues.
The symptoms may be similar, but postpartum depression symptoms are more severe and long-lasting and include intense irritability, difficulty bonding with the baby, feelings of shame or inadequacy, and severe anxiety. Although these symptoms usually start a few weeks after birth, they can start in pregnancy or within the first year after birth and are not exclusive to the parent who delivered the child.
While the baby blues are considered a near universal experience, postpartum depression only affects up to 15% of mothers. Unfortunately the condition is largely under recognized and under treated due to mental health stigmas.
It is considered one of the most common complications of pregnancy and if left untreated can have dire consequences for both parent and baby. Risk factors for post childbirth depression include having a history of anxiety or mood disorders, family history, and genetics.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but severe mental condition and symptoms should not be ignored. Symptoms of this rare disorder include confusion and cognitive impairment, hallucinations or delusions, coming in and out of consciousness, and extremely disorganized behavior. Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare, affecting just 0.1% of new mothers, and requires immediate medical attention because of the high risk it carries to both mother and baby.
It can be difficult to make sense of the different terms and names for the types of mood disorders associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Postpartum depression, post pregnancy depression, post childbirth depression, and maternal depression are often bandied about and the average person may not know the key differences.
The term maternal depression is often used to cover a wide range of conditions that occur during childbirth or the year following. Think of maternal depression as a spectrum that encompasses all other associated conditions like prenatal depression, baby blues, postpartum depression, and even postpartum psychosis.
How to find postpartum mental health support
Having a baby is a transformative experience and can take a major toll on your body and mind. The changes in routine, sleeplessness, and mood shifts can be hard to navigate especially while you deal with the changes in your identity that a new baby brings.
Whether you experience some form of maternal depression like the baby blues or full out PPD it’s important to seek support in the postpartum period. What you are going through is normal and you are not alone in your thoughts and feelings.
Many suffer in silence because they think they shouldn’t feel this way or are too embarrassed to ask for help. Others suffer for fear of being judged and thinking they are a bad mom. It’s always ok to speak to your healthcare provider about your symptoms.
Postpartum mental health support can come in many shapes and sizes. Everyone deals with a new baby differently, but having some form of support can be a lifesaver. That can mean social support from family and friends, or supporting your health in other ways like nutrition and supplements.
Once the baby is born, attention suddenly shifts and many moms feel lost in the shuffle. It’s important to focus on your health as well as the baby’s. Fuel your body with foods that support recovery and don’t forget to support your mind as well. Supplement blends like this one can help manage the ups and downs of mom life to help ease stress naturally.
When to see a doctor
It can be hard to know what’s normal, especially with all the changes a newborn brings. It can be even harder when you are embarrassed or reluctant to admit you are struggling. Getting help doesn’t make you less of a mother and if your symptoms aren’t going away, it’s time to seek help.
It’s especially important to seek care as soon as possible if your symptoms are getting worse, make it hard to care for yourself or the baby, make it hard to complete everyday tasks, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or the baby. There are many successful treatments for maternal depression and you are not alone.
Having a new baby is a monumental event that can bring about a whirlwind of emotions. Many new parents are surprised they don’t feel joy and happiness all the time and get blindsided when they experience sadness and tears.
Baby blues may be a common and normal experience but that doesn’t make it any less stressful for the new mama experiencing them. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between baby blues vs postpartum depression and when to seek help. Just knowing what’s normal and what’s not can be very reassuring and help you navigate the experience.