Having a baby, whether it’s your first or your fifth, is a huge life change. And huge life changes, even good ones, can be emotionally disruptive.
While you’re brimming with pride for your new baby, you may also be experiencing some less-than-happy feelings. This is perfectly normal, and there’s a very good chance that these feelings will go away on their own in a couple of weeks. But if they don’t, it’s important to know what that means and what to do next. Either way, know that you aren’t alone, you aren’t the first parent to feel this way and these feelings aren’t permanent.
Below, we explain the differences between the “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety – and how these conditions are treated.
What are the baby blues?
The baby blues refer to the emotional ups and downs that 70-80% of women experience after the birth of a child. The main signs of baby blues are mood swings – such as sudden crying spells – that generally happen for the first two weeks after your baby is born. These swings don’t affect your ability to function normally, and you still feel like yourself most of the time.
The baby blues are the result of a few things. Yes, your hormones are readjusting and you’re tired, but you’re also settling into life with a new baby. Feeling sad or overwhelmed at times is normal and expected.
However, if you’re experiencing strong feelings of sadness or stress most of the time, or for an extended period of time, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety – and it’s important to get help.
What is postpartum depression? And what is postpartum anxiety?
You may already know that postpartum depression is a form of depression that occurs after childbirth. But for many women, postpartum depression can also include symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, these symptoms are strong enough to be referred to separately from postpartum depression – as postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum anxiety is a form of anxiety that can be centered on your baby or the new stressors that come with them. Women with postpartum anxiety often feel like they’re not doing a good enough job at being a mom. But usually it’s just the opposite – they’re so focused on being a great mom that there’s hardly any room left for other things, including themselves.
What causes postpartum depression and anxiety?
Postpartum depression and anxiety may both be caused by a similar combination of factors as the baby blues. Many of the hormones that your body built up during pregnancy decrease sharply following birth, which can affect your emotions and your energy levels.
A history (or family history) of depression or mood disorders can also increase your risk of postpartum depression and anxiety. Other stressful life events or changes outside of pregnancy can contribute, too.
What are the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety?
As mentioned above, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can have overlapping symptoms. But they’re each generally characterized by certain symptoms.
Postpartum depression shares many symptoms with regular depression, such as:
- Lasting for more than two weeks at a time
- Interfering with your daily life – you may sleep too much or too little, eat too much or too little, or feel unable to concentrate
- Feeling sad most of the day, or experiencing feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness
- Not feeling like yourself and finding that things that used to bring you joy no longer do
Postpartum anxiety symptoms can include:
- Obsessive thoughts or worries about your baby – like constantly checking that your baby is still breathing as they sleep or being extremely scared that you won’t know what to do if your baby has a fever
- Racing thoughts – often centered on making sure you’re doing everything perfectly for your baby
- Panic attacks
How common are postpartum depression and anxiety?
Around one in five women experiences postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety or both, making them the most common birth complications in the United States. Women who are Black, Indigenous or people of color experience these conditions at even higher rates.
How long does postpartum depression or anxiety last?
There isn’t a definitive range of time that postpartum depression or anxiety lasts. They typically start between one week to four months postpartum, but some women have a delayed onset around six to nine months postpartum. Untreated, either condition can persist for months or, in some cases, years. Seeking help early is the best way to treat and avoid a longer period of postpartum depression or anxiety.
How to treat postpartum depression or anxiety
Motherhood doesn’t have to feel completely overwhelming. And when it does, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. Talk about how you’re feeling with your OB-GYN or midwife. Or, even with your child’s pediatrician. Some clinics automatically give every new mom a short questionnaire that screens for postpartum depression and anxiety. Screenings may also be done before you’re discharged after delivery, and at your next few postpartum appointments. But you can also ask for one at any time. Here’s the screening that our doctors at HealthPartners and Park Nicollet use.
If you’re struggling with how to manage postpartum anxiety or depression, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and there is help. It’s also important to let your doctor or midwife know about any symptoms you may be experiencing. They can create a personalized treatment plan that may include therapy, medication or lifestyle changes – helping you handle your new role as a mother and getting you back to feeling like your normal self again.
Schedule an appointment with your obstetrician, midwife or primary care doctor.