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Pregnancy & ChildbirthWellness & PreventionTreatment & Care

Is it the Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

Childbirth is a major event in the life of every family. Even if you feel well prepared for parenthood, you can expect to have a broad range of emotions. Some of your reactions and emotions may surprise you, especially if they seem negative. These negative feelings may run from mild blues to severe depression.

Baby Blues

Your body undergoes many hormonal changes after you give birth. These changes can affect your mood and are believed to be one of the main causes of the “baby blues,” or the weepy, sad, feelings many women experience following the birth of a baby.

Symptoms of Baby Blues

The mildest and most common reaction for new mothers, symptoms usually start on the second or third day after the birth and last around 10 days.

Common symptoms are:

  • Anxiety
  • Crying spells
  • Fear of being alone
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Lack of confidence in mothering ability
  • Loneliness
  • Mood swings

Postpartum Depression

In some women, hormonal changes can lead to a more severe form of baby blues called postpartum depression.

Who is At Risk for Postpartum Depression?

The normal emotional upheaval of childbirth is enough to put all women at some risk. But, genetics and personal history may increase chances of developing postpartum depression. About ten percent of all new mothers develop postpartum depression.

Factors that increase risk include:

  • Current depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder
  • Extremely stressful situations
  • Depression at some other time in your life
  • Relationship difficulties
  • No support network of family, friends, etc.
  • A baby who is especially demanding
  • A difficult pregnancy or birth
  • Blood relatives who have had postpartum depression

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression and baby blues share many similarities, but postpartum depression is more severe and includes additional symptoms. Postpartum depression may start as early as the second or third day after birth, or may take several weeks to a year to develop.

Common symptoms are:

  • Dislike or fear of touching the baby
  • Extreme nervousness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness
  • Frightening thoughts about the baby
  • Inability to sleep even when the baby sleeps
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • No energy

Postpartum Psychosis

In rare instances, symptoms of postpartum depression may become severe. These symptoms may appear as early as the first 48-72 hours after birth or within the first two weeks after delivery.

In addition to the symptoms listed for postpartum depression, other symptoms may also occur. These include:

  • Disorganized behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Irrational false beliefs (delusions)
  • Inability to sleep
  • Withdrawal from family members

In extreme cases, symptoms will also involve:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts of harming the baby

Treating Your Feelings

While “baby blues” generally go away on their own, postpartum depression requires professional help and postpartum psychosis definitely requires medical attention. No matter your symptoms, they are treatable - the earlier you get help the easier they are to treat, and the quicker you will feel like yourself again. Not seeing your doctor may make symptoms more severe.

Self-Help Methods:

  • Give yourself a break
  • Express negative feelings
  • Avoid major decisions until you feel better
  • Develop a support system, such as a mother’s group, exercise class, neighbors, friends or family members
  • Find a workable structure for your day
  • Recognize positive feelings when they happen
  • Keep expectations of yourself, family and friends realistic
  • Nurture yourself with good food, rest, fluids and mild exercise
  • Remember your sense of humor

When Self-Help Is Not Enough

If things seem to be getting worse despite your efforts, don’t you should see your doctor. You may need a physical checkup, medication or psychotherapy. Many new mothers put off calling the doctor because they feel guilty or don’t want to be seen as “crazy.” Your obstetrician regularly sees women in the same situation and can help you feel better.

When to Seek Immediate Help

Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • You sleep all day or not able to sleep at all
  • You cry for long periods of time
  • You fear you may harm yourself or your baby
  • You have unreasonable fears or hallucinations
  • You do not feel able to care for your baby or other children’s basic needs
  • You have feelings of panic and anxiety

Where to Seek Help

  • Your obstetrician
  • The nearest hospital emergency room
  • The Phone (Crisis Line) 924-3900
  • Woman's Hospital Social Services department 225-924-8456

How Fathers and Other Caregivers Can Help

While other family members experience emotions after the birth of a child, they should pay special attention to the mother's wellbeing.

Here is how friends and family can help:

  • If you witness troublesome physical or emotional changes in the new mother, talk to a health care provider
  • Learn everything you can about postpartum depression
  • Do not leave the new mother alone until you are told by a health care professional that it is all right to do so
  • Provide emotional support
  • Take care of the baby so that the new mother can get some sleep
  • Be sure that nutritious food is available
  • Get help with household chores
  • Take care of your own needs, too