Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression: What’s the Difference?
The mood disturbances following the birth of a child are often called the "baby blues," or the "postpartum (postpartum) blues." The baby blues are distinctly different from postpartum depression and do not rise to the level of mental illness.
Emotional upset after childbirth is extremely common with 85% of women experiencing the baby blues. Only 10% - 15% of women go on to develop postpartum depressive disorder. The postpartum blues are short-lived and do not affect a woman's ability to care for her child.
What are the Postpartum Baby Blues?
The baby blues are a mild depression that is normal for the vast majority of new mothers. Considering the stress of delivery and the physical and hormonal changes experienced during this time, emotional instability is to be expected. Symptoms of postpartum baby blues include:1
- Rapidly fluctuating mood
- Sadness, crying
- Decreased concentration
- Trouble sleeping
The severity of postpartum blues peaks around the fourth or fifth day after delivery and typically subsides within two weeks.2
More than the Postpartum Blues
If the symptoms of the baby blues worsen and go on beyond two weeks there is a possibility of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is much more dangerous as it can affect childcare and a very small number of cases go on to become postpartum psychosis. In both of these cases, professional help should be sought as soon as possible so no harm comes to the mother or baby. Symptoms of postpartum depression can include a worsening of the baby blues symptoms as well as:
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
- Anhedonia – an inability to feel pleasure
- Appetite changes
- Negative feelings towards the child
- Anxiety (see Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments)
Postpartum depression cannot be handled alone and professional medical help should be sought as soon as possible.
Treating Postpartum Blues
In mild cases of depression, such as the baby blues, the American Psychiatric Association supports psychotherapy as the first choice of treatment. Seeing a professional well-versed in post-delivery mood disorders, or connecting with other new mothers in the form of a support group, can help a woman through a baby blue depression (read about: Postpartum Depression Support Groups). Other ways to treat the postpartum blues include:
- Making healthy lifestyle choices – eating healthy foods, incorporating exercise into your routine, getting enough rest and avoiding alcohol.
- Being realistic – every mom wants to be the very best mom she can be, but often her expectations are unrealistic. Setting reasonable goals and asking for help when needed is healthy. No one is supermom.
- Spending personal time – setting aside time every day for self-relaxation, reflection or an enjoyed activity – just for you. These do not have to be long periods of time, but even a few minutes dedicated to what you want, over what everyone else needs, can make you feel better.
- Reaching out – when life gets stressful and problems arise, do not isolate yourself. Friends, family, faith groups, other moms or community organizations can all be good support systems. Talking about what's happening is the first step in making it better.
Tracy, N. (2022, January 3). Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression: What’s the Difference?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/postpartum-depression/baby-blues-and-postpartum-depression-whats-the-difference