I remember sitting in bed a week after giving birth, holding a healthy baby I'd very much wanted. So why couldn't I stop crying? For weeks, my otherwise happy days were punctuated by patches of numbness and grief. Like many women, I had the baby blues, and my feelings were at their bluest in quiet, reflective moments. For some, sunset triggers that eerie sadness. What explains the rhythms of the blues? Why are the baby blues worse at night?
The baby blues may intensify at nighttime because, well, everything feels worse at the end of the day, explains Karen Kleiman, MSW, Founder and Director of The Postpartum Stress Center, and author of several books on postpartum depression and anxiety, including Therapy and the Postpartum Woman. "Thoughts become darker as the sun goes down. Fatigue sets in. Support may be less available or accessible. Anxiety intensifies," she tells Romper. Additionally, nighttime triggers physiologic changes. According to Kleiman, reduced exposure to light and changes in blood sugar are two environmental factors that can increase fatigue and wreak havoc on your mood, sharpening your sense of sadness, confusion, or fear.
Women may also feel particularly vulnerable in the darkness if they suffer from high levels of anxiety. As Kleiman explains:
"The darkness can represent aloneness and isolation from the outside world, and if insomnia is part of this picture, there is often an anticipatory panic when evening descends."
A sudden drop in baby-making hormones plays a huge role in the baby blues, according to Fit Pregnancy. Add to that the exhausting, potentially traumatic experience of birthing a baby, and you get a recipe for crying jags, fear, anxiety, confusion, and even grief. To make matters worse, the world expects new moms to be relentlessly happy, and that expectation is a heavy weight when you're managing totally normal but conflicting feelings.
No mom is an island, but many feel like one. Ultimately, a lack of awareness of the emotional labor of life postpartum contributes to a sense of loneliness for many. For the 70-to-80 percent of women who experience unsettling emotions after birth, the cauldron simply boils over, and the baby blues is born.
You may be singing the baby blues if you have any of these symptoms, according to family therapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling: "Prolonged crying (even when there’s no reason — this is normal!), feeling profound sadness or 'low' in general, constant fluctuation in moods, anxiety, inability to sleep (even though you're very tired) and irritability." In Smerling's experience, the baby blues can result from the dissonance between what you expected and the reality of having a newborn. "It’s an overwhelming feeling of responsibility and realization that your life is going to change significantly," she explains to Romper.
Smerling agrees with Kleiman that the baby blues can be worse at night. "The darkness makes you feel like you’re really alone. You don’t have as many distractions to keep you busy," she explains. With the new baby, you may also feel differently towards your partner (and of course, you can't have sex yet), which can add to your lonesomeness.
Feelings of sadness should only last two-to-three weeks, according to both Kleiman and Smerling. If you don't feel relief shortly thereafter, you should be assessed for postpartum depression or anxiety. Kleiman also offers this advice for making it through a difficult time: surround yourself with loved ones, and don't push yourself too hard to get "back to normal."
Yes, you can leave the dishes in the sink for someone else to deal with. Yes, you can order take-out Chinese for the third night in a row. No, you should not berate yourself for feeling sad — the baby blues may be miserable, but feeling down or depressed directly after birth doesn't mean you're not going to enjoy being a mom.
In those first weeks, you should focus on "self-care, self-compassion, food, rest, sleep, sunshine, walking, laughing, loving," says Kleiman. You've been through a lot of changes, physically and psychologically, and nighttime can absolutely heighten your awareness of everything you've been through and every jagged thing you feel.
Personally, I always felt my lowest in the gray early morning, when I was the only one up, and the house was drowning in quiet. In those moments I'd realize that I didn't feel perfectly happy, as I'd naively expected I would. Instead, I felt raw, even as I held my baby close. As the weeks marched on, however, the strange, intrusive feelings fled, like a migrating flock of birds. Now I think of the baby blues as a natural interlude between pregnancy and motherhood — a bridge to my postpartum life. I know it can be lonely crossing that bridge. But there's so much sunshine on the other side.
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