The weeks following the birth of your baby will be filled with many strong emotions. Overwhelming joy, utter exhaustion and some fear are just a few of the feelings you may experience. But what about when your emotions are not of happiness and excitement but instead are sadness and irritability? And what if you are not feeling the amazing connection with your baby that everyone described to you while you were pregnant? You may be wondering if what you are experiencing is just a case of the baby blues or if you should be concerned about postpartum depression. Here’s how to tell the difference.
What are the ‘Baby Blues’?
The ‘baby blues’, or a short period of feeling sad or moody following childbirth, affects approximately 70-80 percent of mothers. The baby blues are triggered by a neurobiological process when estrogen and progesterone hormone levels fall rapidly following giving birth causing mom to feel depressed, tired and irritable. A drastic decrease in other hormones produced by the thyroid gland likely also contributes to this period of depression. The baby blues differ from postpartum depression in that it typically only last a few days to several weeks and should not interfere with your daily functioning or ability to care for your baby. Some signs that might indicate you are in the throes of the baby blues include:
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Feelings of dependency
- Frequent crying spells
- Decrease in appetite or overeating
- Feelings of vulnerability
What is Postpartum Depression?
With postpartum depression, the symptoms may be similar to the baby blues but they will be more extreme and will not diminish in a matter of weeks. Women who experience postpartum depression often struggle to bond with and care for their baby and complete everyday tasks and obligations. Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression may show up weeks or months after the birth of your child and may last indefinitely until treatment is sought. Approximately 10-20 percent of women experience postpartum depression following childbirth. Signs you may have postpartum depression include:
- Pervasive and persistent depressed
- Severe mood swings
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Lack of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of interest in your new baby
- Lack of energy/ extreme fatigue
- Isolating from friends and family
- Excessive crying episodes
- Extreme anxiety
- Anger and irritability
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Changes in appetite
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Thoughts of suicide
- Panic attacks
- Loss of focus
Causes and Risk Factors:
While biological factors such as rapidly decreasing hormone levels may trigger the onset of the baby blues or postpartum depression, psychosocial factors also play a role. You may be a more likely candidate for postpartum depression if you have other life stressors in addition to having a new baby.
These stressors can be related to the experience of childbirth or completely unrelated and include but are not limited to:
- A traumatic birthing experience
- Difficulty breastfeeding
- An unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
- Lack of social support
- Marital discord
- Struggles with body image
- Feelings of lost identity and control
- Sleep deprivation
- Financial problems
You may also have a higher risk for developing postpartum depression if you have a history of clinical depression or bipolar disorder, previous episodes of postpartum depression or have a baby with a disability, health complications or special needs.
When to Seek Help:
Regardless of whether or not you think it may be the start of postpartum depression or just a period of the baby blues, it is important to check in with your health care provider about how you are feeling.
Contact your doctor or care provider right away if:
- It’s been 2 weeks and your symptoms have not improved
- Your symptoms are making it difficult to care for your baby
- Your symptoms are getting progressively worse
- You are finding it difficult to complete basic daily tasks
** If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, call your doctor or 911 immediately and have your partner or a close friend or family member come care for your baby while you seek help.**
The baby blues and postpartum depression often bring feelings of shame to the mother who feels as though she should be feeling only joyous and grateful about the birth of her baby. You are not alone if you are feeling this way and there are many people and resources available to help you. Reach out to your care provider, your partner, a trusted friend or a spiritual leader for support and guidance during this difficult time period and never be afraid to ask for the help you need. When left untreated, postpartum depression can become chronic depression and pose long term risks to both the mother and baby. Treatment may include counseling, medication, support groups and other natural approaches and is intended to alleviate the painful symptoms of living with postpartum depression.