There are a lot of feelings and emotions we expect to feel after having a baby, but sadness, irritability, hopelessness, and depression don't typically make that list. While these may not be words that society connects with adding a baby to your family, it's the hard reality for many new parents. And since both the "baby blues" and postpartum depression can cause these symptoms, many women are left trying to guess what's wrong and how to get help.
It's crucial that more people are made aware of the differences between the baby blues and postpartum depression (PPD) so people know when and how to seek help.
Key differences between baby blues and postpartum depression
According to the American Pregnancy Association, "Approximately 70-80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child." Understanding what's behind these feelings is the important first step to knowing what to do next.
Understanding the symptoms
The symptoms of the "baby blues" can include:
Irritability and mood changes
Crying for no known reason
Problems with appetite
While those symptoms can overlap with those of postpartum depression, signs of the latter last longer and are more intense. If left untreated, postpartum depression can make it difficult to function in daily life, making it difficult for a person to care for themselves and their child. Other symptoms associated with PPD can include:
Severe mood swings
Withdrawing from family and friends
Not bonding with baby
Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, or like a bad mom
Changes in eating habits
Insomnia or struggling to feel awake
Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
Thoughts of harming yourself
Feelings of shame and guilt
Thoughts of harming your baby
Thoughts of death or suicide
Understanding the timeline
One of the biggest ways to differentiate between baby blues and postpartum depression is to consider the timeline of when symptoms appear and how long they last.
Baby blues typically affect women for a few hours during the day. It can occur within a few days of giving birth and generally disappears within a couple of weeks. Postpartum depression symptoms, on the other hand, may not appear until weeks or months after delivery and can last for a year. PPD symptoms may impact you throughout the day and make it difficult to do your daily tasks, such as showering and getting dressed.
Risk factors of postpartum depression
While there is still much research to be done to understand the risk factors, it has been found that two of the best predictors of postpartum depression include the presence of a psychiatric disorder before or during pregnancy and experiencing stressful life events.
Other risk factors that may contribute to developing postpartum depression include:
Family history of postpartum depression
Bipolar disorder diagnosis
Your baby has health complications or special needs
You had multiples (twins, triplets, or more)
Experiencing financial problems
Struggling with breastfeeding
No support system
Having an unwanted pregnancy
While the situations listed above can be risk factors, they don't mean you necessarily will experience PPD. And not having any of the risk factors above does not mean you will not experience PPD.
Tips for coping with the baby blues
While the baby blues aren't as severe as postpartum depression, it doesn't mean they don't impact you. Here are a few tips that can help you:
Get proper sleep - While this can be difficult with a new baby, try to prioritize getting enough rest. Try to take naps throughout the day. Allow your partner to take some of the overnight feedings so you can sleep more.
Know what helps you calm down - When you feel your emotions are taking control, take a few moments to do something that allows you to relax and calm down. This could be taking a short walk, taking a bath, or meditating.
Remind yourself that it's temporary - You may find it helpful to remind yourself that the baby blues are normal and something many women experience. Instead of fighting against your feelings, show yourself grace when you start to struggle or cry.
Take a break - Ask a trusted family member or friend to sit with your baby for an hour or two so you can get out of the house alone or with your partner.
Ask for help - Connect with your support system and let them know what you need help with, whether it's cooking a meal, doing a grocery pickup, or sitting with the baby so you can take a nap and shower. People often don't know how to help unless you tell them.
Tips for coping with postpartum depression
If you're experiencing signs of postpartum depression, we encourage you to contact your doctor and a mental health professional for treatment. While PPD will eventually go away, the symptoms can be severe, and treatment options are available to help you throughout this time.
In addition, here are some other tips and strategies that may help:
Stay in touch with your support system
Staying connected with a support system after having a baby is important to help with postpartum depression and may be able to help decrease the risk of experiencing it.
Life can feel hectic with a newborn as you work on adjusting to your new normal. This can make it harder to stay in touch with your friends and family. Your routine has been altered, and generally, a period of adjustment happens as families work on finding the patterns and routines that work best for them.
It's so easy to have your day consumed with parenting responsibilities that you may not even realize you haven't talked with your friends or support system in a while.
But support is vital for your mental health. If you have close friends and family members, tell them you're struggling. When people have babies, loved ones often try to give them space so they can adjust to their new life. While they have good intentions, it can mean that no one notices when you're struggling. So don't be afraid to ask for help.
If you don't have individuals in your life who can act as a support system, you can find online support groups. It can be helpful to hear from other parents who know what you're going through and have experienced it themselves.
Develop a bond with your baby
We want you to know that there is nothing wrong with you if you're struggling to bond with your baby. It is a symptom that many women experience as part of postpartum depression. The pressure to bond can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. But there are some strategies that can help you build a healthy attachment between you and your child as you navigate your postpartum journey.
The most important thing you can do to help create this attachment is to ensure you take care of yourself. It's challenging to be present for your child when experiencing symptoms of depression. While it's common for moms to feel they need to manage all of the responsibilities of caring for their baby on their own, it doesn't need to be that way. It's good to ask for help from others.
Take time to do the activities that help you feel your best. Allow yourself to drop the pressure of trying to do every feeding, change every diaper, and get up every time your baby needs something. Remember, asking for help doesn't mean you are failing as a mom. Instead, it means you are doing what needs to be done to ensure your child's needs are met.
Choose one time each day to intentionally be present with your baby. Look into their eyes. Play with them and smile at them. This doesn't need to be long, and it's okay if you don't experience an instant bond as you do these activities. Simply focus on being present for a few moments, giving your baby your undivided attention.
Release the expectations of what you thought this experience would feel like. Constantly comparing what you're experiencing due to postpartum depression with your expectations may leave you feeling bad. Instead, do your best to release those expectations so you can be present in your current life.
For example, it's okay to stop breastfeeding because it feels like too much. It's okay if you get a babysitter to watch your child so you can have time alone. And struggling to bond with your baby now does not mean that you are a bad mom or that you won't feel that bond with them in the future.
Practice self-care (even if it's adjusted in your new-parent life)
Self-care may look different after having a baby, but it shouldn't stop completely. Self-care activities are essential for our mental health and overall wellness. Below are some self-care activities you can try. However, it's important to note that if you decide to try one and aren't able to finish it or stick to it, that's okay. You can try again on another day.
Do light exercise (if cleared by your doctor) - Many studies show how physical activity can boost our moods. Choose an activity that you usually enjoy and give it a try. This doesn't mean you need to start a stringent exercise routine. It could be as simple as walking around your neighborhood or doing yoga in your living room.
Journal - Some people find journaling helps them to release their thoughts and anxiety. Spend some time writing down your thoughts, feelings, and what you're experiencing. If you keep your writing, they may help you identify any patterns in your symptoms and feelings. But you don't have to hold onto them either. It's up to you.
Do something you enjoyed pre-baby - Go out for coffee with a friend, take a pottery class, go to the gym each week, attend a networking event or pamper yourself with a massage or pedicure. There is no right or wrong here; it's about doing something that you enjoy, whatever that might be.
Eat regularly - Maintaining a healthy diet is important for your mental health. You may find that you're not hungry or forget to eat since you're busy caring for your baby, but getting the right nourishment for your mind and body is important. Set a timer if you need to so you don't forget to have a meal. Keep healthy snacks on hand that are easy to grab and eat without taking a lot of time.
Talk to a doctor or mental health professional
Again, if you struggle after having a baby, reach out for help from your doctor or mental health professional. Be honest with them about your symptoms, feelings, and what you're experiencing. They can support you in finding strategies that help you get back to feeling like yourself again.
There are many options available for treatment, so don't delay in seeking help and support if you need it.
How to help your partner with postpartum depression
It can be difficult to know how to help a loved one experiencing postpartum depression. Please know that they are not choosing to feel the way they do. Avoid saying things like she needs to just get over it or snap out of it. Postpartum depression is a mental health disorder and not something they control.
Reassure your partner that she is a good mother even if she feels bad and that she will get better. Encourage her to do the right things, like seeing her doctor, taking medication, or going to therapy. Reassure her that you know she is doing her best and that the baby will be fine.
In addition, look for practical ways to help. For example, clean the house, cook dinner or arrange meals, and take messages for her, so she doesn't need to talk on the phone. Be with her and let her know you are there for her. Ask her how you can support her or if there is anything you can do to help, but understand that she may not know the answer.
Learn about postpartum depression. Talk to a doctor or mental health professional to get answers to your questions so you can understand her experience better.
When to get help for postpartum depression
The best time to get help if you're struggling is as soon as you notice your symptoms. There is no reason to try to tough it out or hide your symptoms. The sooner you can work with a professional to explore treatment options, the better. You don't need to wait until your symptoms reach a certain low point before seeking help.
If you or your partner is struggling, The NEST has mental health professionals specializing in perinatal and reproductive mental health, including postpartum depression. Schedule a consultation today to be matched with a therapist.