The Baby Blues & Postpartum Depression: What’s The Difference?

Being a new mom brings up a lot of emotions. But how can you tell the difference between these feelings and actual postpartum depression?

The days and weeks following the birth of a new baby are always full of a lot of emotion. Fluctuations and adjustments in hormones, a lack of sleep and the major changes in daily life create a perfect storm for new and big feelings. It can be pretty overwhelming for a woman who is going through such a significant transition.

Sometimes, mothers worry that any negative feelings mean that they are depressed and they may hesitate to discuss their concerns because of our society’s stigma against mental health challenges. Are the feelings you’re experiencing the baby blues, or something more serious, such as postpartum depression? Here’s how to tell them apart.

The Baby Blues

The baby blues are normal feelings of adjustment that are very common among women who have recently given birth. It’s generally accepted that that up to 80% of women feel these “blues” after having a baby.

There is an old saying that “When the milk comes, so do the tears” and it’s true that often the onset of the baby blues coincides with your milk coming in, at some point in the first few days after birth. They typically do not last more than a couple weeks. If you have the baby blues, you might be feeling:

  • Weepy
  • Sad
  • Irritable
  • Worried
  • Anxious

The baby blues are a normal reaction to a stressful and new situation, and usually do not need any treatment other than compassion, gentle care, and support.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a type of depression whose onset comes in the first year after a woman gives birth. According to Postpartum Progress, “one in every seven women gets a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like PPD.” PPD is not just “feeling depressed” or “having a bad day”; its symptoms can involve one or many emotions, and last at least 2 weeks or longer.

If you have postpartum depression, here are some of the things you may be feeling:

  • Chronically tired, weepy, guilty or hopeless
  • Numb, empty, or disconnected
  • Angry, resentful, unable to concentrate, overwhelmed
  • Panicky, worried, unable to sleep when given the chance
  • Just not feeling like yourself, or knowing that something is wrong

If you are diagnosed with PPD, your health care professional may recommend counseling and/or medication, and additional help and support from family and friends.  It’s important to remember this: postpartum depression is treatable and you are not alone.

PPD is not the same as postpartum psychosis, which is a very rare disorder (affecting 1-2 per 1000 births), in which the mother may experience mania, hallucinations or delusional thinking. It requires immediate medical attention; call 911 or access other emergency medical attention.

Lastly, although our society is getting better about recognizing the importance of mental health, it can still be very hard to talk about PPD, and unfortunately not all health professionals take these concerns seriously. If you think you or someone you care about has PPD, it’s very important to find someone who understands your concerns and helps you get the support and treatment you need. See PMDA’s province-by-province list for resources across Canada. 

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