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Baby blues vs. postpartum depression – what's the difference

How to tell normal baby blues from postpartum depression and when to call your doctor.

October 02, 2023

Postpartum depression and anxiety 

Whether you're becoming a mom for the first time or the fourth, the days and weeks after your baby's birth can be as overwhelming as they are joyful and exciting.

Many women have feelings of sadness after childbirth, ranging from brief, mild baby blues to the longer-lasting, deeper depression known as postpartum depression.

Feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety are more common after childbirth than many people realize. It's important for new mothers – and those who love them – to understand the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety and to reach out to family, friends and medical professionals for help.

What are the “baby blues?”

Most new moms experience the baby blues, feelings of sadness and worry that begin in the first days after childbirth. With the baby blues, a woman might feel happy one minute and tearful or overwhelmed the next. Baby blues usually last only a few days or a week or two.

Why it happens

These mood changes are believed to be a natural effect of the hormone shifts that happen with pregnancy and childbirth. The hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels within a week or so. As they do, baby blues usually get better without medical treatment.

What to do

Rest, nutrition and support are quite important because being exhausted, sleep deprived or feeling stressed can make feelings of depression and anxiety worse.

To cope with baby blues, new moms should accept help in the first days and weeks after giving birth. Let family and friends help with errands, grocery shopping, household chores and childcare. Talking to people close to you, or to other new mothers, can help you feel supported and remind you that you're not alone. 

When to call the doctor

If baby blues linger longer than a week or two, talk to your doctor and discuss whether postpartum depression or anxiety may be the cause of your emotional lows.

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression can start shortly before birth or any time up to 12 months after birth. It can also come on up to six months after weaning if mom has breastfed or pumped past one year.

A woman with postpartum depression and anxiety may feel sad, tearful, anxious, cranky, discouraged, hopeless, worthless or alone. She also may:

  • have trouble concentrating or completing routine tasks
  • lose her appetite or interest in food
  • feel like she is not a good mother
  • lack interest in her baby 
  • feel anxious about the baby's health or caring for baby
  • have scary thoughts about harm coming to her baby
  • feel hopeless or overwhelmed by her situation 

Feelings and thoughts like these are painful for a woman – especially during a time when you hoped to feel happy. Many women are reluctant to tell someone when they feel this way, but postpartum depression and anxiety are real medical conditions that require attention and treatment.

Why it happens

Like baby blues, postpartum depression and anxiety are thought to be related to the hormone changes that happen during and after birth. These rapid hormone shifts can lead to sadness, anxiety and depression that’s more severe and lasts longer than baby blues.

Postpartum depression can affect any woman – but some may be more at risk for developing it. Women who have a personal or family history of depression (including postpartum depression with a previous pregnancy) are more likely to experience postpartum depression.

Other things that might increase the chance of postpartum depression include serious stress during pregnancy, medical problems during or after pregnancy, and lack of support at home.

When to call the doctor

A new mother needs to tell her doctor right away if she feels like giving up, feels like life is not worth living or has thoughts of hurting herself or her child. 

Postpartum depression can last several months or even longer if it not treated. With treatment, a woman can feel like herself again. Treatment may include talk therapy, medication, or both. In addition, eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and rest, and finding social support can be very helpful.

Did you know?

Although they didn’t carry their baby, dads, non-gestational moms, and adoptive parents can also experience postpartum depression. They may not have experienced the hormonal component and physical stresses of pregnancy and delivery, but they can still go through the sleep deprivation, role changes, and other challenges associated with becoming a parent.  All new parents should be encouraged to reach out for help if they are experiencing mood or anxiety symptoms after baby arrives.

How can I get help?

Tell your doctor if you're having trouble with postpartum moods, thoughts or feelings. Let someone else know, too. This might be your partner, a friend or a family member. 

Besides getting treatment for postpartum depression, you might find it helpful to:

  • take time for yourself
  • read something uplifting
  • be with others
  • ask for help 
  • rest
  • get moving
  • join a support group

Looking ahead

Like all forms of depression, postpartum depression creates a cloud of negative feelings and thoughts over a woman's view of herself, those around her, her situation and the future.

With the right treatment and support, the cloud can be lifted. This can free a woman to feel like herself again and regain her perspective, strength, energy, joy and hope. With those things in place, it's easier to work through changes, see solutions to life's challenges and enjoy life's pleasures again.

Other resources

Speak with a healthcare professional anytime, day or night, by calling the HealthONE Nurse Line at (303) 374-0777. Our team members can address your healthcare concerns and make an appointment for you with one of our specialists if you would like further care.

Postpartum Support International
Call (800) 944-4773 (English or Spanish)
Text (503) 894-9453

October 02, 2023
Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center