It is important for new moms to understand the difference in the baby blues vs. postpartum depression and when to seek the help they need no matter which it is. Don’t try to do it alone! It’s estimated that about one out of every seven women will experience postpartum depression, but that number may be higher due to the number of women who never seek help. When you stop to think about the many life changes that come with welcoming a new baby into the family, you may wonder why that statistic isn’t much higher.
New parents are sleep deprived. The lack of sleep can cause marital distress as adults try to keep up with work, older children, and other responsibilities while caring for a demanding newborn. There’s a screaming baby in the house. The laundry is piling up. Mom is trying to recover from childbirth while her partner struggles to provide support and feel involved. Diapers, formula, baby strollers and other necessary items are increasingly expensive. If you add in a baby with colic or special needs, the stress can go through the roof at any moment.
It’s common for these situations to lead to anxiety, stress, and frustration, but that doesn’t always mean postpartum depression (PPD) is on the way. What most women experience in the first few weeks of parenthood is the baby blues, and it’s important to know how that differs from the big PPD.
When Parenthood Gets You Down
The American Pregnancy Association defines the baby blues as a sadness or negative mindset that occurs within the first two weeks of a new baby’s life. You’ve just welcomed your bundle of joy into the world. You’re relieved to put the agony of pregnancy in the past. Everyone around you is so excited about the baby, but you feel less than enthusiastic much of the time.
You may cry without any reasonable explanation. You look at your baby and are overcome with joy one moment but are filled with sadness the next moment. You’re exhausted, yet you struggle to fall asleep. When you do get some rest, you may find it difficult to stay asleep for long. You may snap at your loved ones at any moment, so everyone is taking cover. You’re restless but perhaps too tired to do anything but stare at the wall and cry.
These symptoms are constant for some women, but they may also come and go at random times throughout the day. Many women feel like terrible wives or parents and experience tremendous guilt over their emotions, thoughts, and actions while experiencing the baby blues. This is why so many women never report the experience, but it’s still estimated that up to 80% of women suffer from the blues to some extent.
When the Baby Blues Settle in Long Term
All symptoms of the baby blues should go away within two or three weeks of a baby’s birth. It’s believed that hormonal and lifestyle changes that occur immediately after childbirth are to blame, and most women will adjust to those changes rather quickly. For those who continue to suffer from the baby blues weeks or even months after having a baby, professional help for postpartum depression is often needed.
Many of the symptoms of postpartum depression are the same as the symptoms of the baby blues, but there are some more severe symptoms that come into play. You may lose your appetite and struggle to concentrate on important tasks. You may take little to no pleasure in activities and events that usually give you immense joy or welcomed entertainment. When social occasions come along, you may find any possible excuse not to attend. Most devastating of all, you may not feel a deep bond with your new baby. You may even feel distant from your significant other, your older children, and other important people in your life.
What to Do When Postpartum Depression Holds You Down
Women experiencing postpartum depression simply do not feel like themselves. They withdraw from others and often experience overwhelming guilt. You may start to think that you weren’t cut out for motherhood or that your baby was better off being born into another family, and those thoughts are exactly why it’s so important to talk to a medical professional about your depression.
While the baby blues go away on their own, postpartum depression can last for months or even years if not properly treated. The consequences are similar to any other type of debilitating depression, but you’re at a very sensitive time in your life. This leaves you quite vulnerable to destructive thoughts and the development of potentially dangerous behaviors.
You are not to blame for your mood swings or your lack of interest in other people or life in general. There are ways to get back to yourself and get started bonding with your baby and reconnecting with your family, but it always starts with asking for help. You may reach out to your partner or another trusted adult first, but plan to speak to your doctor, your pastor, or a counselor as soon as possible.
The traditional treatment for postpartum depression focuses on prescription antidepressants, and many women benefit from some type of therapy. Simply talking about the symptoms that a woman is experience and learning that many other new mothers go through the same experience is enough to stop some of the self-guilt that destroys the confidence of many parents.
Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression – Asking For & Accepting Help
Sometimes with the baby blues, you need to ask for help to feel better. That is not an option. You and your baby need you to be well. With postpartum depression, you will need even more.
Talking to your doctor and enrolling in counseling will take you a long way toward overcoming postpartum depression, but you will likely need to accept help at home as well. This is true even if you realize that you’re experiencing a case of the baby blues and will likely feel better within a week or two. Your life is changing in amazing ways, and it’s important to allow those who love you to help.
You may feel like your baby needs you and you alone, but do your best to step back and allow others to care for the baby so that you can rest. Allow other adults in your life to bring you hot meals. Consider pumping breastmilk and allowing others to take care of feedings instead of waking you up around the clock. Even if you have the opportunity to simply take a shower without the baby nearby, take your loved ones up on that offer.
Many women find that getting more sleep and getting back into the routine of grooming, exercise, and healthy meal preparation are key to overcoming the baby blues and postpartum depression. There are a million reasons why you are likely to experience mood fluctuations at this point in your life, so give yourself a break and reach out for help. Your mental health is important to the growth and well being of your baby.
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- Postpartum Depression, American Psychological Association, Accessed April 7, 2020. https://www.apa.org/pi/women/resources/reports/postpartum-depression
- Baby Blues, American Pregnancy Association, Accessed April 7, 2020. https://americanpregnancy.org/first-year-of-life/baby-blues/
- Postpartum Depression, Mayo Clinic, Accessed April 7, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617
- Postpartum Major Depression: Detection and Treatment, American Family Physician, Accessed April 7, 2020. https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0415/p2247.html
- Post?partum depression: a comprehensive approach to evaluation and treatment, Mental Health in Family Medicine, Accessed April 7, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083254/