The birth of a child is a highly anticipated, joyous event for many families. Sometimes, though, new moms struggle with feelings of sadness, detachment, and doubt after they bring their baby home. It can be frightening when these unexpected feeling surface, especially if they are severe. But there is a difference between normal “baby blues” and the more serious condition of postpartum depression.

Baby blues

The postpartum, or “baby,” blues are feelings that usually show up a few days after birth and may last around 1-2 weeks. Moms with the baby blues may cry for no reason, fluctuate between being happy and sad, or may get anxious or upset for no reason. These symptoms tend to fade without any specific treatment, but rest and getting help during this time can make those days much easier.

Postpartum depression

This is a more serious version of the baby blues. Women with postpartum depression (PPD) have feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety, and/or anger to a much greater level than with the baby blues. These symptoms usually begin about 2-3 weeks after giving birth and will persist if not adequately treated. All providers should screen for PPD at routine postpartum visits because approximately 15 percent of postpartum moms experience it. If you have concerns, you should definitely make an appointment to be seen.

Moms with PPD may not be able to care for themselves or their babies. This does not mean they are bad mothers! They are suffering from a true problem that needs to be treated, which is usually done with improving sleep habits, therapy, medication, or a combination of all three. If your doctor prescribes antidepressant medication, be sure to let him or her know if you are breastfeeding so you can get a safe option. Keep in mind that being prescribed antidepressants for PPD doesn’t mean you’ll need to be on an antidepressant forever.

Postpartum psychosis

This is the most serious perinatal mood disorder. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include hearing voices, visual hallucinations, or other forms of altered mental status. This requires emergency medical care.

It is important to remember that being diagnosed with any of these conditions does not make anyone a bad parent. Your new baby needs a healthy mom, and in the excitement of bringing home a new baby it is easy to forget to care for yourself. If at any point you have thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, be sure to let someone know and seek emergency medical care.

Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018

Takeaways

  • Having a baby can be stressful, and this doesn’t make you a bad parent.
  • Baby blues are mild, temporary feelings that go away quickly.
  • Postpartum depression can be treated with getting more sleep, therapy, or medication.
  • Contact your provider immediately if you have any thoughts of harming yourself or someone else.

References

  1. The American College of Obstetricians/Gynecologists. FAQ #91: Postpartum depression.
  2. The American College of Obstetricians/Gynecologists. Practice Bulletin #92: Use of psychiatric medications during pregnancy and lactation.

Comments

  1. My wife is due in 2 months and has dealt with depression in the past. She’s been hesitant to bring it up with her doctor/therapist but we know post partum depression could rear its ugly head. As soon as there are any signs we will be sure to talk to someone who can help.

    Reply
    1. Marcus, that is great that you are both so aware. You may want to encourage her to let her doctor know ahead of time that way everyone can just be on the same page in case it does show up. You also may want to find some local resources (many areas have local PPD support groups/hotlines) ahead of time again just in case they are needed so you are not searching last minute with the sleep deprivation of new parenthood to deal with as well. Hopefully they are not needed, but best to be prepared. Good luck!!

      Reply
  2. Its hard to decipher sometimes whats just normal anxiety, fear, “blues” or actual PPD. Thanks for the info.

    Reply
    1. You are very welcome!

      Reply
    1. You are very welcome! Having a heads up about signs is half the battle, so you are ahead of the game!

      Reply
  3. I know that it is normal to be more emotional during my pregnancy but I feel like I’m not as happy as I should be, I’m more sad than anything else. I fear that it will get worse after birth.

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    1. YES, I totally agree with all of what you said!

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    1. I absolutely agree that exercise and even just being outside and getting some exposure to light can be so helpful. It can really help reset your body clock especially when you are sleeping in 2 hour increments. Good advice!

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    1. I was going to ask what the likelihood of experiencing PPD is if you’ve suffered with depression prior to pregnancy. I figured you would be at higher risk, but thank for confirming that. I did not have any issues with PPD following the birth of my son, but my best friend did experience mild baby blues for a few weeks following the birth of her son. Luckily, she recognized what was going on and was able to ask her family and friends for help in adjusting. A strong support system is a fabulous thing to have!

      Reply
  4. sometimes I feel overwhelming! I’ve read articles that
    certain vitamins help to prevent depression, im taking
    those vitamins…I hope its true…before I got pregnant I
    had depression!

    Reply

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