Almost every mother has experienced that sudden feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious soon after her baby is born. It’s completely natural. Hormones are flying all over the place, you may have had a traumatic birth experience and you’re now responsible for another human life. But how do you know if it’s just the baby blues vs postpartum depression?
What is the difference between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression? With the Baby Blues, symptoms can be mild or severe but they are short-lived, usually lasting no more than two weeks. With Postpartum Depression your symptoms don’t ease off but tend to get worse as time goes on.
The Baby Blues Symptoms
According to the National Institute of Mental Health around 80% of women suffer from the Baby Blues after giving birth. Symptoms can include any or all of the following:
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Mood Swings
- Loss of appetite
These feelings usually arise 2 or 3 days after giving birth and can last up to two weeks. It’s perfectly natural to have the Baby Blues but a lot of us still feel guilty about it. We’re supposed to be in this blissed-out state of happiness with our new baby and instead, we’re down in the dumps. This guilt then makes us feel even more miserable and so on and so forth.
We women can be really tough on ourselves. We’re constantly telling ourselves “we should this” and “we shouldn’t that”. As Carrie Bradshaw said, “Are we just shoulding all over ourselves?”.
Causes Of The Baby Blues
The fact is you’ve been pregnant for the last 40-odd weeks and your body has gone through the most extraordinary changes in its life. You’ve then had to spend hours in increasing amounts of pain during your labour and, at the point of utter exhaustion, had to birth this new human being out into the world. Now it’s your sole responsibility to keep this helpless little thing alive and thriving. Add to that the crazy dance of hormones going on inside you and is it any wonder that you’re dissolving into a puddle of tears because you can’t find your slippers!
I’d read all about the Baby Blues when I was pregnant but they still took me by surprise when on day 3, bang on cue, I burst into tears half-way through a perfectly nice conversation with my nurse. I suddenly felt like a big, fat failure, and that I wouldn’t be able to feed to my son. No idea where these feelings came from as the whole breastfeeding thing had been going really well. She, of course, wasn’t surprised at all. She gave me a reassuring smile, a pat on the shoulder, and went about her day. They see it all the time, obviously.
My point is your baby’s birth doesn’t have to have been traumatic for you to have these feelings. You don’t have to be completely on your own to feel lost and overwhelmed. You just have to accept that what you’re feeling is natural, completely normal and should pass within a week or two. If it doesn’t, then you may be suffering from more than just the Baby Blues.
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
In its very early stages, Postpartum Depression looks very much like the Baby Blues. It shares all the same symptoms, though they can feel
more severe and are longer lasting. Additional symptoms include:
- Inability to care for baby
- Inability to bond
- Suicidal thoughts
- Becoming withdrawn
- Thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby
- Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy
- Shame and guilt
Postpartum Depression affects about 15% of women (NIMH) and usually starts within a few weeks of giving birth. Sometimes it can start during pregnancy, or up to a year after birth. If caught early Postpartum Depression is very treatable.
Causes Of Postpartum Depression
Rest assured that Postpartum Depression isn’t caused by anything you should have or shouldn’t have done. It’s caused by a combination of emotional and physical factors that are completely beyond your control.
The sudden and severe drop in hormones after the birth actually change the chemicals in the brain and this can lead to mood swings and depression. Exhaustion, continued sleep deprivation and insufficient time to recover from the birth are all contributing factors, and women that are prone to generalised depression and anxiety are more likely to suffer postpartum.
A traumatic or premature birth, a baby with medical problems, or another traumatic event during pregnancy such as the death of a loved one, are all valid reasons that could add to a woman’s feelings of depression.
Treatment For Postpartum Depression
If you feel that you’re suffering from Postpartum Depression and it’s not just the Baby Blues then you need to ask for help as soon as possible. If you get treatment early there’s every chance that you’ll still be able to form a secure attachment with your baby and make a full recovery. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed, these feelings are very common and no one will think any less of you for admitting them.
When you reach out to your doctor or healthcare worker they may suggest putting you in touch with a mental health professional for some counselling. Talking things over with someone can be really therapeutic and just what you need. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy are thought to be very effective in treating Postpartum Depression.
Your doctor may also suggest putting you on Antidepressants or Estrogen Replacement Therapy, or both. These can take a few weeks to work. Although some medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, make sure you talk this through with your doctor.
There are some natural remedies and things you can do to help yourself, but you should try these with your doctor’s guidance.
If you have the symptoms of depression but they are really severe and come on suddenly, usually within the first week after giving birth, there’s a slim possibility that you may be suffering from Pregnancy Psychosis.
Pregnancy Psychosis is a rare but very serious illness. It affects 1-2% of women and its symptoms also include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Delusions (irrational thoughts and beliefs)
- Extreme agitation/Excessive Energy
- Inability to eat or sleep properly
- Obsessive/Bizarre behaviour
- Thoughts or actions of harming yourself or your baby
If you feel that you are suffering any of these symptoms you need to seek help immediately. This is not something you should try to power through. It is treated as a medical emergency and in the interest of yourself and your baby’s well being, GET HELP! I don’t like to sound as if I’m shouting at you, but the point I’m trying to make is so important I think it justifies the capitalisation.
If you see a loved one showing signs of Postpartum Psychosis you must intervene and insist they get help. It’s no good waiting this one out and hoping they get better. This disorder brings with it a high risk of suicide and infanticide. Hospitalisation of both mother and baby is usually required immediately. Be prepared to take action if you notice any of the above symptoms.
And On That Note…
Things got pretty scary toward the end there. Yes, things can get serious but full-on psychosis is very rare and even that can be dealt with by the right professionals.
If you’re in the US and you or someone you know is suffering from Postpartum Depression then please get in touch with Postpartum Support International. They have English and Spanish speaking operators.
PSI Helpline: 1-800-944-4773, #1 for English, 2# for Spanish
or text: English 503-894-9453 / Spanish 971-420-0294
If you’re in the UK please contact the PANDAS Foundation on 0808-1961-776
If you or your loved one are at crisis point please call your emergency services on 911 (US) or 999(UK)
Almost all mothers have gone through some kind of depression or anxiety, it’s completely natural. The important thing is that it doesn’t last too long and that you are still able to care for yourself and your baby. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. It’s a whole new world, this motherhood business, but you’ll get used to it.
You’re doing a great job.