The bevy of emotions that a woman experiences after giving birth is truly astounding. Relief, joy, amazement, and marvel may be among them, but they often come alongside feelings of sadness, frustration, and despair. Understanding the differences between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression can help new moms know how to navigate these complex post-birth emotions.
Also referred to as PPD, Postpartum Depression is a perinatal mood disorder estimated by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to impact one in five women beginning anytime in the first year following birth. PPD requires professional intervention and treatment, and some studies show that PPD can impact moms up to three years post-birth.
Alternatively, the term "Baby Blues" refers to a less severe set of symptoms that up to 80% of women experience in the days after giving birth, per the AAP. The mood swings, weepiness, feelings of sadness, overwhelm, and irritation that occur with Baby Blues typically resolve on their own within a few weeks post-birth.
"There is a certain stigma around both of these experiences because mothers feel like this means they aren't good enough or that they are having trouble being 'motherly.' These issues are caused by things outside of your control or heart," neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez tells Romper. "Experiencing these things does not make you less of a loving parent."
Differences In Symptoms, Severity Between PPD & Baby Blues
While similar in nature, the severity and duration of symptoms are typically the deciding factors that determine whether or not a woman is experiencing Baby Blues or PPD.
Licensed clinical social worker and certified perinatal mental health clinician Jamie Kreiter tells Romper that Baby Blues occur post-birth when a woman's hormones are "rapidly changing to their pre-pregnancy state."
"With Baby Blues, a woman’s mood swings rapidly," Kreiter tells Romper. "She may find herself crying more often than usual — or yelling more than usual. She may find herself content and happy in one moment, but then crying in the next. After a good cry or yell, she typically feels better from getting that release in hormones."
The body's reactions to these hormone fluctuations are compounded by worries about caring for a newborn and the sleeplessness that comes with waking up multiple times a night for feedings. But while some women who experience Baby Blues will see their symptoms fade and resolve shortly after birth, when symptoms last more than two weeks and become more severe, PPD may be present.
"PPD is more severe than the Baby Blues, and there can often be overwhelming hopelessness that comes over the patient," Hafeez tells Romper. "Panic attacks and difficulty bonding with the baby are common, and while feelings of self-doubt are similar to those of the Baby Blues, within the context of PPD, they can be more difficult to overcome. Mothers with the more severe condition often withdraw from the family, experience more severe mood swings, and can develop thoughts of self-harm or even harming the baby."
Postpartum Support Is Crucial For New Moms
"Although Baby Blues are common and some of the feelings associated with Baby Blues we have come to expect in the early postpartum period, there are still things that women can do to combat these feelings, such as having good support, good coping tools, and time," Kreiter says.
Between physical support like help at home from a partner, friend, or family member, to emotional support from a therapist or online support community, there are a number of options for women who experience feelings associated with Baby Blues. Even without PPD, seeking professional support for Baby Blues can help you develop coping tools that will be critical during this trying time while your body is healing and recovering.
"Many overwhelmed new moms will lose their drive to care for themselves, so making it a point to follow through on small self-care regimens helps. Allotting time for light exercise and time outside is also very important," Hafeez tells Romper. "We must also acknowledge that there are new mothers who may not have the support around them to make these activities easier to carry out. Family time and routine are very important, but we also must take into account that the body is still healing, so you want to do what you can to cope in a healthy manner, but don't overwhelm yourself."
Understanding that support can be found in many places and in many forms is also key. Take time to do what you need to do for yourself, but know that in time, if you are experiencing Baby Blues, the overwhelming feelings will subside.
"I think being flexible with yourself is the most important; whatever you plan for practice with at least an ounce of flexibility," Kreiter says. "And finally, time! If what a mother is experiencing is indeed Baby Blues, it will resolve in one to two weeks after delivery."
Treatment Options For PPD & Baby Blues
"While both conditions are taken seriously, PPD is treated with greater urgency because of its severity," Hafeez explains. "PPD also has the distinction that it can make itself known well into the first year after birth, which is another difference from the Baby Blues. It is strongly recommended that you don't wait for your first check-up, but instead consult with your doctor as there are treatments that they can recommend to help alleviate symptoms."
Even if you aren't sure whether or not you are experiencing PPD or Baby Blues, reaching out for professional help can provide some much-needed reassurance during a difficult time. If you're unsure of what to do, it's OK to say exactly that to whoever will listen — your OBGYN, your child's pediatrician, your spouse, your parents, a friend — who can help you take steps to seek professional treatment.
Although the time and duration of treatment for PPD and Baby Blues can differ, Kreiter tells Romper that there is "never a wrong time to seek professional help. "A woman should seek out professional help if what she is feeling does not feel 'normal' for her or if her symptoms and mood are disrupting functioning," Kreiter says. "Many women experience depression prenatally (during pregnancy). Therapy can be a great way to manage these symptoms during pregnancy and reduce the risk of feeling depressed or anxious in the postpartum period."
Most of all, it's important to understand that if you are experiencing PPD, treatment can help. "All perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, including PPD, are treatable with the right help and support," Kreiter tells Romper.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD., a neuropsychologist in New York City, faculty member at Columbia University
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