With the baby blues occurring in nearly 80% of postpartum mothers, it can be hard to tell whether or not they are a cause for worry.
The term “baby blues” is used to describe the flood of feelings a mother experiences shortly after giving birth. Between the sudden change in hormone levels, the extreme lack of sleep, trauma of childbirth and everything else that happens in the first few weeks postpartum, it’s understandable for a new mother to feel overwhelmed.
The trouble with the baby blues is that they can often mask symptoms of a more serious condition such as postpartum depression or anxiety. While it’s common to brush symptoms off as normal motherhood, it’s also important to recognize the signs of something more dangerous before it gets out of control.
Here are some warning signs that it might be more than just the baby blues.
1. You cannot sleep, even when you get a chance to.
Insomnia is a common symptom for women with postpartum depression and anxiety but it’s extremely hard to diagnose in a new mother. The demands of caring for a newborn who only sleeps in short spurts can make it hard to track exactly how much sleep you’re getting. And not only does sleep deprivation cause a whole slew of other symptoms, but it often gets blamed for everything that’s wrong.
One way to check and see if you’re suffering from insomnia is to track your sleep patterns. Just as you track how long your newborn is napping for, jot down when you went to bed and what time you woke up – or use a sleep tracker or an app.
If you have the luxury of additional help, then try to sleep while they take care of the baby. Most sleep deprived mothers would jump at this opportunity to get in as much sleep as possible. But if you’re not able to sleep even when you get the chance to, then it could be a warning sign that something’s just not right.
2. You’re turned off by the idea of food.
Perhaps there were certain foods that you didn’t like during pregnancy, which can be especially true if you suffered from morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum. But now that you’ve given birth and your hormones are starting to regulate, you should be able to resume your normal diet.
If you feel no desire to eat, or if your favorite meals now turn you off completely then it could be a warning sign of postpartum depression. Bear in mind that this can also have the opposite effect, depending on your personality type. While some people cannot eat when they feel sad or depressed, others find solace in over-eating.
If your eating habits have drastically changed, then the first sign would be a change in weight, but this is yet another thing that’s hard to diagnose in a postpartum mother. So pay close attention to your feelings about food and take note of whether or not they have changed.
3. You mostly feel nothing, as opposed to feeling everything.
Motherhood is overwhelming, especially in those first few months. The baby blues are like experiencing a torrent of emotions all at once and being unable to contain them. You may cry simply because you need some form of release for all the intense feelings happening inside of you.
But if you find yourself crying out of despair, it could be a different story. Postpartum depression feels less like actual sadness, and more like hopelessness, loneliness and emptiness. Instead of feeling “depressed” you may feel no emotions at all.
When you feel “blue” take a moment to ask yourself why you feel this way. If it’s because you’re overwhelmed and tired and still adjusting to all the changes – then carry on. But if it’s because you feel like a terrible mother and don’t feel worthy enough to care for your own child, then it’s worth looking into. It can help to write your thoughts down in a journal or workbook to keep track of them.
4. You get angry very easily.
Anger and rage are not common symptoms of the baby blues. They are more common in cases of untreated postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. If you find yourself suddenly snapping at your spouse, kids or others around you, then it’s a pretty big warning sign that something else might be wrong.
Untreated postpartum depression can build up, resulting in feelings of worthlessness and resentment. When we hate ourselves, we sometimes take it out on others. Like all mental illnesses, postpartum depression tries to alienate us from others and anger is one of the quickest ways to do this.
Postpartum anxiety can manifest as anger and rage as well. It’s a way that our body loses control and can be a very dangerous symptom, especially when there are children around.
5. You feel less inclined to socialize.
Like many other symptoms of maternal mental illness, being socially withdrawn is often a missed symptom. It’s perfectly normal for a new mother to feel protective of her child and want to keep them isolated for the first few weeks or months. A lot of parents also want time to spend bonding with their new baby in private, so when a new mother asks for no visitors for the first few weeks, there’s never much cause for concern.
But once the initial “babymoon” stage is over and mom and baby have settled into a good routine, then it’s expected that they will begin to venture out into the world. It might be scary, especially for a first time mother, to try to manage a fussy newborn in public but many mothers will feel happy to finally get out and show off their new baby.
If you find yourself locked up in the house and afraid to step outside with baby, or if you’re constantly avoiding anyone coming by to visit, then that could be a warning sign of something more than just normal new mom fears.
6. You’ve been feeling this way for longer than 3 months.
The first three months postpartum are often referred to as the 4th trimester because it’s the period of time during which your body heals after pregnancy and childbirth. On average, the baby blues affects mothers within the first few weeks postpartum, so this means it could be longer for some. But mothers with the baby blues normally feel much more like themselves by the third month.
Many women with postpartum depression or anxiety aren’t diagnosed until several months after giving birth. But it’s not because they weren’t experiencing signs and symptoms, its usually because they were in denial. Some will say that, in hindsight, they had all the symptoms from day one and just never knew it.
While it’s normally best to seek help sooner rather than later, it’s also never too late to get checked out. Most maternal mental illness assessments end after the first 6 weeks, despite the fact that they can show up long after that.
If you are at all concerned that your common case of the baby blues is something more than that, speak to your doctor or call Postpartum Support International for advice and information.