Are You Experiencing the Blues Post-Birth?

Learn the differences between the baby blues and postpartum depression in new mothers

Woman carrying a baby and looking away from him/her

Feeling a little blue after giving birth to your beautiful new baby—and feeling bad since this is supposed to be a blissed-out time with your new little love? You’re not alone. Dr. Hedwige Saint-Louis, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Morehouse School of Medicine, says up to 80 percent of new moms experience some postpartum blues. “It is absolutely normal to experience feeling overwhelmed and more emotional than normal in the first weeks after having a baby, says Saint-Louis. “Sleep deprivation, caring for a newborn who doesn’t have a normal schedule, and adjusting to the attention being lavished on the baby and becoming just the baby’s mom can be hard.”

How do the blues differ from depression?
Saint-Louis says that feeling a little blue is different from postpartum depression (PPD), which affects approximately 10 percent of new mothers. The blues are short-lived, lasting only a few weeks, and will respond to lifestyle changes, like getting more sleep and finding support from family and friends.

Symptoms of PPD
In addition to sadness that lasts longer than a week, symptoms of postpartum depression include prolonged crying; irritability; feeling guilty, inadequate, overwhelmed, or trapped; and a lack of interest in your new baby, according to The National Institute of Mental Health. It’s important to understand that these feelings do not indicate that you do not love or want your baby.

What causes PPD?
We don’t have a full understanding of what causes postpartum depression, says Saint-Louis, but we do know that “it is related to the woman’s hormonal fluctuation right after delivery. Hormones play a part in modulating brain chemistry.” The risk for depression increases in women who are socially isolated or dealing with other life stressors, like poverty, homelessness, previous depression, or other mental illness. The risk increases significantly for women who discontinue mood stabilizing drug medications suddenly because of pregnancy.

What to do if you feel blue
Seeking support is crucial, Saint-Louis says. “There is a fear of being inadequate. The image of motherhood in the media is one of a woman who has it all together, but it’s an unrealistic portrait.” Saint-Louis encourages her new mom patients to do something for themselves daily: shower, go outside for a walk or some other form of exercise in the sunshine, snack on fresh fruits and vegetables. And most importantly, she advises, look for new mom support groups, friends, and family who can help bring you meals or watch the baby briefly so you can nap or have some time to yourself. If you’re still feeling sad after administering some self-care and finding outside support, talk to your OB-GYN or other health-care provider to consider professional counseling, advises the National Institute of Mental Health.