Postpartum Depression or "Baby Blues"? How to Tell the Difference


There is a question we hear all the time. Whether in casual conversation, in mom groups, from our clients, or even our friends and family. It’s a bit sobering as professionals who work to help new families get off to the best possible start, but thankfully we can shed some light on it.

That question is: “how can I tell the difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues?”

What Are “The Baby Blues?”

The baby blues are a collection of symptoms, fairly well-known among older generations, which affect at least 8 out of every 10 new moms in the first couple weeks after giving birth. These symptoms can include crying, anxiety, fatigue, mood swings, and feelings of hopelessness or not being a good parent.

These symptoms happen due to the wild hormonal fluctuations happening during this sensitive and vulnerable period. Up until now, you have had higher and higher levels of pregnancy hormones to support the needs of your growing baby and body. Once you have given birth, the pregnancy hormones need to diminish to make way for hormones that support lactation. This is a lot of change to happen in a short time, and can definitely cause all of these physical and emotional effects.

Since a lot of these symptoms can mimic those of depression, it’s pretty common for the average person to mix them up and be totally unsure of what’s happening!

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression presents like clinical depression, but may arise at any time up to a year or more after giving birth. It affects an estimated 1 out of 7 new moms, and can even affect your spouse or partner as well. Some of the risk factors that may contribute to postpartum depression can include the hormonal fluctuations, physical depletion from pregnancy and birth, lack of support, and previous trauma or depression.

The symptoms of postpartum depression are many. The most “obvious” ones which can lead you to realize something’s wrong may include sadness, crying, mood swings, anxiety, hopelessness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, thoughts of self harm, loss of appetite, and sleeping too little or too much. Other, lesser-known symptoms could include rage, not feeling bonded to your baby, loss of libido, and lethargy.

How Do I Know Which One I Have?

While you should always seek support and help if you feel that something is not right, the good news for moms suffering the “baby blues” is that these symptoms usually go away after a couple weeks as your hormones adjust to a new normal. Postpartum depression symptoms usually do not just go away without some form of support. Additionally, the baby blues present around 2-3 days postpartum, while postpartum depression can present any time - even up to a year or more after you have your baby.

What to Do if You Suspect Postpartum Depression

Support is crucial for every new parent, but especially for those suffering from postpartum complications including depression and anxiety. Always feel free to reach out to your doctor, midwife, postpartum doula, or seek a therapist if you feel that something is off. A great many new parents aren’t sure what to expect and assume that the rough time they are going through is just a part of parenthood, when in reality it is a form of depression and/or anxiety which could be alleviated through the right support, counseling, nutrition, or medicine. You and those who love you should also strive to help create a supportive environment for you where your physical and emotional needs are getting met as much as possible.

As postpartum doulas, we support parents through this diagnosis by taking the stress of caring off your shoulders - whether that be for your self, your family, or your home. We also fight one of the biggest factors in postpartum depression - sleep deprivation - by providing overnight infant care so that parents can get the restorative sleep their minds and bodies desperately need.

If you would like to learn more about perinatal mood disorders such as postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and others, please visit Postpartum Support International.