Is it “Baby Blues” or postpartum depression? How to tell the difference


by Emily Maas, MD

May 24, 2023

Your baby has been born. You’ve stared at them in awe. You’ve kissed them a million times. You’re amazed at what you’ve accomplished. Yet, you still feel a little sad. Why?

What you’re experiencing is called the “Baby Blues” and it is caused by the rollercoaster of hormone changes your body is experiencing.

What causes the Baby Blues?

When you’re expecting, you have extremely high levels of progesterone and estrogen in your body. These two hormones are instrumental in maintaining a healthy pregnancy, as well as contributing to the baby’s development.

As soon as you deliver your child, though, these levels drop quite dramatically, which can cause immediate mood swings. The four in five mothers who experience Baby Blues typically start to show signs two or three days after delivery.

Environmental factors have a hand in these emotional dips as well. The newborn phase can be overwhelming to begin with. After all, you are exhausted—likely sleep-deprived—and are mentally and physically recovering from a huge life event.

Signs of the Baby Blues include feeling sad, irritable and overwhelmed. You may notice that you are crying a lot and having a hard time concentrating and sleeping. Another symptom is anxiety, or feeling unsettled and worried about your new baby and how to care for them.

How to cope with the Baby Blues

The good news is that the Baby Blues typically go away on their own and usually only last about two weeks post-delivery. There are things you can do to help alleviate the Baby Blues, too, including:

  • Ask for help: You were not meant to do this alone. Have a loved one watch the baby so you can take a break.
  • Sleep: Getting a proper amount of rest is vital to feeling your best. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps, but if that’s not feasible, try to find ways to get some naps in.
  • Reach out: You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings. Every new mom is wading through similar emotions. Try connecting with other new parents to share your experiences with each other. You’ll be so glad you did!
  • Be well: Eat nourishing, healthy foods and try to be active every day. You don’t have to run a marathon—even a walk outside is good for you.
  • Do you: You are more than a mom. Try getting back to the things you loved doing pre-baby. You’ll find that by taking care of yourself and setting aside “You Time” will make every moment with your baby much sweeter.

Baby Blues versus postpartum depression

If you notice that after those first two weeks you are still feeling sad and irritable, your blues might be evolving into postpartum depression (PPD). This form of depression often starts about three weeks after delivery but can show up any time within the first year.

PPD is also very common, although studies don’t offer a realistic view of the statistics because it goes largely unreported. It is the most common issue women deal with after having a child. If you think you’re having PPD, don’t hesitate to discuss how you’re feeling your OBGYN so you can get help.

Common signs of postpartum depression include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Feeling scared or alarmed
  • Feeling like you’ve lost interest in things that you normally love
  • Feeling like you are not able to bond with or care for your baby
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

Any single one of these is enough to contact your doctor right away and get started on a treatment plan. Typically, therapy and medicine are used to combat these intrusive thoughts, but talking about these feelings with your support system and asking for help is also very beneficial.

While the Baby Blues and postpartum depression may have some overlapping symptoms and signs, PPD is much more serious. Use this helpful chart to understand the difference between the two with this guidance from March of Dimes:

Baby blues

Postpartum depression

Feeling anxious or restless Feeling overwhelming sadness or panic
Being grumpy Afraid to be alone
Crying for no reason Crying most of the time
 Feeling out of touch with yourself Feeling hopeless
 Mood changes Mood changes and physical changes, as in appetite
 Sadness Thoughts that scare you

Taking care of your mental health

We don’t talk about postpartum mood swings and disorders enough. While your doctor will probably ask you a few questions in your post-delivery checkups, it is important to be aware of your emotions and be open about them. Most women across the world can relate to what you’re going through.

The emotional aspect of having a baby is as important as your physical recovery. Talk to your partner, friends and family members, or find an online forum to share your thoughts. And of course, speak with your OBGYN too. We are ready and able to help.

If you are showing signs of the Baby Blues or postpartum depression, talk to your doctor or find one near you today.

About the Author

Emily Maas, MD, is an OBGYN on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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