While it might seem like a problem that only happens to a select few new parents, experts estimate that postpartum depression is an underreported issue. Roughly 10% of women experience postpartum depression after delivering a newborn. Some studies even suggest that these numbers could be as high as one in every seven new mothers.
Although postpartum depression tends to resolve itself within 3 to 6 months, different factors can influence the duration of a postpartum depressive episode.
By some estimates, almost half of all people with postpartum depression are not properly diagnosed by a healthcare provider. While a reported 80% of mothers with postpartum depression experience a full recovery, swift diagnosis and treatment tend to improve the likelihood of this outcome.
We know that for parents especially, maintaining good mental health is an important part of preventing a variety of problems including substance use.
Here are the differences between postpartum depression and baby blues for new parents and their loved ones.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a diagnosable mental health condition characterized by depressed mood, difficulty bonding, and social isolation. Postpartum depression can also manifest as feelings of emptiness or intense sadness that last longer than two weeks after birth. It primarily affects new mothers, although new fathers can also experience postpartum depressive episodes.
People from different cultural backgrounds and with different personality types may feel as though postpartum depression symptoms are laziness or poor parenting. But, this isn’t true. Postpartum depression is considered a complication of giving birth in the same way that perineal tearing can be. It shouldn’t be seen as a source of shame or a sign of failure.
Usually, postpartum depression symptoms start within the first few weeks following birth. But sometimes these symptoms can surface earlier. They can also come on later – up to a year after the baby is born.
Although postpartum depression can happen to any parent, certain risk factors put some new moms at greater risk. When a new mom or dad has a personal or family history of a mood disorder, lack of support from loved ones, depression during pregnancy, or pregnancy, they may be at higher risk of developing postpartum depression. But regardless of whether someone seems at high risk for postpartum depression, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms in the weeks following birth.
What are the symptoms of postpartum depression?
Although postpartum depression usually comes with a pervasive feeling of emptiness and sadness, there are other key symptoms for providers and parents to keep on their radar.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include depressed mood, extreme mood swings, challenges with bonding with the new baby, withdrawal from loved ones, changes in appetite, excessive crying, changes in sleep patterns, extreme fatigue or energy depletion, irritability, and hopelessness. Sometimes, postpartum depression can also look like fears of not being a good mother or struggling to care for the new baby or oneself.
Especially concerning symptoms of postpartum depression include thoughts of harming yourself or your baby and thoughts of death or suicide. While these thoughts do not make you a bad mother or a bad person, they warrant immediate medical attention.
How is postpartum depression treated?
Postpartum depression can be treated with a combination of therapy and medication. In severe cases that resist medication or therapy, ultra-brief electroconvulsive shock treatments may be a viable treatment option.
Reaching out for help from family and friends, trying to get regular sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking time for self-care are also important parts of recovering from postpartum depression.
What is the Baby Blues?
The “baby blues” refers to a period right after giving birth where a lower than normal mood is common. Typically, after four or five days of postpartum, the baby blues kick in. Those dealing with the baby blues postpartum are far from alone – research suggests that up to 80% of new moms experience some level of “baby blues.”
What are the symptoms of baby blues?
While this period of sadness and anxiety is different for everyone, there are some common symptoms of the baby blues. Most parents experiencing the baby blues report symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, crying spells, changes in appetite, sleep difficulties, irritability, mood swings, trouble concentrating, and feeling overwhelmed by parenting tasks.
While bringing home a bundle of joy seems like it should be a happy time, there are several reasons why the baby blues hit most new moms. Although we can’t say for sure why they strike some parents, research suggests that hormonal imbalances, hefty adjustments to lifestyle, daily routine disruptions, and leftover emotions from childbirth might be to blame.
How can you tell the difference?
Although it might be challenging to tell the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression, certain clues might help differentiate the two conditions.
The biggest difference is that postpartum depression tends to be more severe, persistent, and disruptive to daily life than regular baby blues. The intensity and duration of symptoms of postpartum depression make it more of a health concern than baby blues.
If a new mom finds herself experiencing the symptoms listed above for more than a couple of weeks or they feel unmanageable in intensity, it’s important to seek help from a trusted provider. Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming the baby are both indicators that a new mom is likely suffering from postpartum depression. In these cases, urgent medical care is important for the health and safety of mom and baby.
The good news is that with treatment, support, and regular communication with healthcare providers, most parents dealing with postpartum depression recover. If you find that a case of the baby blues is lasting more than a couple of weeks or taking a turn for the worse, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor and see how they can help.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer, mainly in the fields of mental health, and wellness. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.