new born infant asleep in the blanket in delivery room

Maternal Mental Health Week: Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues

Peace at Home May 4, 2023 | Ruth Freeman

Is it “Baby Blues” or Postpartum Depression (PPD)? The first week of May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and it’s a perfect time to remember that this issue deserves our attention. What’s the difference between the two? How do you know if you need help? Postpartum depression and baby blues are both common mood disorders that can occur after childbirth, but they differ in terms of their severity and duration of symptoms.

Compared to PPD, baby blues is a more mild and short-lived change of mood that affects many new mothers in the first few days after giving birth. This generally lasts anywhere from two to ten days, and is accompanied by feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability, sleep changes and mood swings, among other symptoms. One thing that sets this apart from PPD is that it does not affect your ability to take care of your newborn, and usually resolves on its own without any treatment.

On the other hand, Postpartum Depression is a more severe and long-lasting mood disorder experienced by 10-20% of new mothers. It’s characterized by depressive symptoms that last two weeks or more, including persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness, as well as loss of interest or pleasure in daily life. Other symptoms may include fatigue, severe changes in appetite and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

The good news is that it is treatable, often with therapy and/or medication, and it’s important to realize that the presence of these symptoms does not indicate a weakness or something that you’re doing wrong. 

Consider the following questions to know if you or someone you love may need professional help with PPD following childbirth:

  • Do I feel a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness?
  • Does my depressive mood last for most of the day, every day?
  • Do I feel a consistent lack of concentration or ability to perform normal daily tasks?
  • Do I feel unable to take care of myself or my child?
  • Am I having suicidal ideations or consistent thoughts of death? 
  • Have I had drastic changes in my eating and/or sleeping habits?
  • Have these symptoms been occurring for more than two weeks? 

While baby blues is a common and relatively mild form of mood disorder that usually resolves on its own, Postpartum Depression is a more severe and long-lasting condition that requires treatment. Taking stock of your mental state in the months after childbirth is just as important in the postpartum period as physical recovery. It is equally important for family and loved ones of new mothers to be aware of symptoms that may develop over time, as moms do not always recognize these symptoms in themselves right away. 

Remember that if these symptoms are present in yourself or someone you love, it’s important to seek professional help and not try to fix it on your own. Many moms of newborns feel confused, overwhelmed and exhausted so it might be confusing in this state to sort out the seriousness of your symptoms. And friends and family might try to comfort, saying things like “it’s typical”, “it’s ok”, or “it will pass”. However, Postpartum Depression is a condition that requires treatment. Trust your gut if you feel concerned and talk with a professional like your OB-GYN physician. 

And keep in mind, if you had difficult childhood experiences, you may be a bit “hyper independent,” meaning it is hard to ask for help. In this case, be cautious on behalf of your baby even if it is hard to ask for help for yourself. You both deserve all the support you can get.

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