Do I have baby blues or postpartum depression?

People often conflate the terms “baby blues” and “postpartum depression”, using them interchangeably, when in reality they are not the same thing. So, you may ask, how are they different and does it really matter which term you use?

What are the baby blues?

Some women begin to feel depressed, anxious, and upset soon after giving birth. They may feel angry with the new baby, their partners, or their other children. They also may:

  • Cry for no clear reason
  • Have trouble sleeping, eating, and making choices
  • Question whether they can handle caring for a baby

What is postpartum depression?

Women with postpartum depression have intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or despair that prevent them from being able to do their daily tasks. Other symptoms may include:

  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Appetite and sleep disturbance
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or yourself

When do baby blues occur?

Baby blues usually occur about 2–3 days after childbirth. These feelings may come and go in the first few days after childbirth and get better within a few days or 1–2 weeks without any treatment.

When does postpartum depression occur?

Postpartum depression most commonly starts about 1–3 weeks after childbirth but can occur up to 1 year after having a baby.

How can you tell the difference?

There are two major areas where baby blues and postpartum depression can differ:

  • Timing. The baby blues occur sometimes only for a few hours each day and often disappear within 14 days after delivery. Postpartum depression on the other hand can occur within four weeks to several months after childbirth and can last up to a year.
  • Symptoms. Some of the symptoms of baby blues are irritability, fatigue, and sadness. These can also be symptoms of postpartum depression, but with postpartum depression, other symptoms can be more severe and include aggression, extreme stress, and potentially feelings of detachment from the baby.

The exact cause of the baby blues is unknown, but it is thought to be related to:

  • Changes in hormone levels. Hormones change during pregnancy and again after a baby is born. These hormonal changes may produce chemical changes in the brain that result in depression.
  • Lifestyle adjustments. There are many adjustments that come with a newborn, such as sleep disturbance, disruption of routine, and the emotions from the childbirth experience itself; all can contribute to how a new mom feels.

Postpartum depression can also be caused by a combination of factors, similar to baby blues, but with perhaps additional factors. These additional underlying factors can include the following:

  • History of depression. Women who have had depression at any time—before, during, or after pregnancy—or who currently are being treated for depression have an increased risk of developing postpartum depression.
  • Emotional factors such as doubt, guilt, feat, and anger. Feelings of doubt about pregnancy are common, no matter the circumstances. Parents of babies who are sick or who need to stay in the hospital may feel sad, angry, or guilty. There are just a lot of emotions that surround pregnancy and birth, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Fatigue. Many women feel exhausted after giving birth. It can take weeks for a woman to regain her normal strength and energy.
  • Lifestyle factors. Lack of support from others and stressful life events, such as a recent death of a loved one, a family illness, or moving to a new city, can greatly increase the risk of postpartum depression.

Seeking help

Baby blues generally go away on their own within a few weeks after childbirth and do not require additional medical intervention. On the other hand, if you think you may have postpartum depression, or if you think your baby blues are not going away, it is important to see your obstetrician/gynecologist (ob/gyn) or other primary care giver as soon as possible.

In fact, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends that all women have contact with their health care provider within three weeks of giving birth and continue to seek ongoing medical care during the postpartum period, as needed. Seeing your physician sooner and more often can help you and your doctor spot signs and symptoms of both health issues and mental health issues. Bottom line--you do not have to wait for a postpartum checkup to seek help—if you need it, get it.

This article was reviewed by Alessandra M. Taylor, MD, Obstetrics/Gynecology (Ob/Gyn), at ARC Center Street. If you would like to book an appointment with Dr. Taylor, do so online or by calling ARC Center Street at 737-404-0347.

Tags: Postpartum depression, baby blues