The dreams and expectations about how you will feel when you have a baby do not always translate into reality after giving birth.  Many new mothers find that their true postpartum experience does not match up with the joy and wonderful feelings they expected to have. 

If you feel this way, you’re certainly not alone.  In fact, 70-80% of new mothers experience what is known as “baby blues” after giving birth.  The good news is that “baby blues” usually go away after a few days to two weeks and are different from postpartum depression. 

The difference between postpartum depression and “baby blues”

A person who gives birth is likely to experience “baby blues”.  Postpartum depression (or perinatal depression) is a serious mental health condition that begins anytime during pregnancy up to one year after giving birth.  This condition is more severe than “baby blues” and often requires more in-depth treatment to heal and prevent the symptoms from becoming long-term.  Unlike “baby blues,” postpartum depression symptoms do not resolve on their own after a few days to two weeks.  While the symptoms of the “baby blues” can sometimes feel as severe as postpartum depression symptoms, they will subside in a short period of time.

Common questions you may have about “baby blues”

What are the signs and symptoms of “baby blues”?

When experiencing symptoms of “baby blues”, you may find that your mood swings quickly from happy to sad and back again.  You may feel proud of yourself for how well you’re doing as a new mom, then the next minute you may be in tears because you feel like you’re doing everything wrong as a mother and are not cut out for the job.

You may also feel a lack of motivation to fulfill your basic needs such as eating, showering, brushing your hair, or changing out of sweatpants.  You may feel anxious, irritable, exhausted, and overwhelmed.  These symptoms may be due to the extreme fluctuations in hormones your body experiences from giving birth, as well as the lack of sleep that comes with having a newborn.

Other symptoms of “baby blues” may include:

  • Crying without knowing why
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Sadness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Restlessness
  • Fear for the future
  • Negative thoughts about yourself or your baby
  • Impatience

How can I tell if I have “baby  blues” or postpartum depression?

Symptoms of “baby blues” can be confused with symptoms of postpartum depression.  While the symptoms may overlap or be similar, those associated with postpartum depression are more severe and persistent.

If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, begin during your pregnancy, or over two weeks after childbirth, they may be different than “baby blues.” If you’re concerned about the symptoms you’re experiencing, it’s important to speak with a professional.  There are a variety of depression screening tools your provider may use to help determine if you have postpartum depression, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. If you score a 10 or higher on this scale, it indicates a risk for depression, and you can seek treatment with a therapist who will monitor your symptoms, look deeper into what you’re experiencing, and provide you with resources and treatment options.

How do I treat “baby blues”?

While “baby blues” is short-lived, there are ways to alleviate the symptoms while you’re going through it, and therapy can be a great option.  While “baby blues” doesn’t typically require medication or intense therapy, there are lifestyle changes that a therapist can recommend and help implement into your daily routine.

Some of these may include getting more sleep, reaching out for help, building and using a strong support system, engaging in self-care practices, getting enough sunlight and Vitamin D, eating a healthy diet, abstaining from substance use, being kind to yourself, and checking in with your obstetrician and/or primary care provider.

If I have symptoms of “baby blues,” should I seek therapy or wait?

It’s never a bad idea to speak with a therapist if you’re not feeling like your usual self, or are concerned about your well-being. If you’re not feeling well, waiting two more weeks to determine if your symptoms will subside or if you should see a therapist could rob you of two week’s progress from treatment or some helpful ways to manage “baby blues.”

A licensed therapist can bring you peace of mind and lighten the burdens you may be feeling as a new mother.  Whether you’re certain of the cause of your symptoms or not, a mental health professional is there to help you. Since symptoms of “baby blues” can feel similar to postpartum depression, working with a professional to shed light on your unique symptoms can be quite beneficial.

Are there ways to help prevent “baby blues” and postpartum depression?

More research is needed to determine the most effective methods for preventing postpartum depression, but we know that “baby blues’ is related to hormonal fluctuations that level out shortly after giving birth.

Some research and professional reports suggest that women with a history of postpartum depression can combat the onset of symptoms by being proactive about creating a sleep plan before giving birth.  Getting enough sleep has been suggested to help combat the onset of perinatal mood disorders.  Learning soothing and sleep-promoting methods for your baby can also potentially help lower the risk of developing postpartum depression and other perinatal disorders.

While “baby blues” and postpartum depression can be difficult to endure, help and relief are available through the support of a licensed therapist. It’s okay to ask for help and support during pregnancy or after giving birth, and it doesn’t make you a bad mother if you do.  In fact, it makes you brave and responsible to want the best for your baby and self.

About the Writer

Marisa Perera, PhD

Marisa Perera, PhD is Senior Manager of Clinical Innovation and Research at Two Chairs, a modern behavioral health company that is creating a better experience for both patients and clinicians by starting with an in-depth, research-backed matching process to ensure the ideal patient-therapist fit.