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. You aren’t the first parent to feel this way and these feelings aren’t permanent. In fact, there’s a very good chance these feelings will go away on their own in a couple of weeks. But if they stick around or get more intense, it’s important to know what to do next.
Below, we explain the differences between the “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, their causes and symptoms, and when to talk with a doctor.
What are the baby blues?
The baby blues refer to the emotional ups and downs that 70-80% of women experience after giving birth to a child.
What are the symptoms of the baby blues?
The main signs of baby blues are mood swings – such as sudden crying spells or sadness. Usually, the baby blues last for just the first couple 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.
What causes baby blues?
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 worry 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?
You may already know that postpartum depression is a form of depression that occurs after childbirth. But what you may not know is that it’s a serious illness that can sometimes be mistaken for the baby blues. As we mentioned, the baby blues usually go away a couple weeks after your baby is born. But postpartum depression symptoms of sadness and feeling overwhelmed are more intense and longer lasting.
What are the signs of postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression shares many symptoms with regular depression, such as:
- You feel sad most of the day, or experience feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness
- You don’t feel like yourself and finding that things that used to bring you joy no longer do
- Depression lasts for more than two weeks at a time
- Your intense feelings of sadness or being overwhelmed are interfering with your daily life and you may:
- Sleep too much or too little
- Eat too much or too little
- Feel unable to concentrate
What is postpartum anxiety?
Sometimes the kind of depression symptoms someone is experiencing may be strong enough to be considered postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum anxiety is a form of anxiety that can be centered on your baby or the new stressors that come with them. Those with postpartum anxiety often feel like they’re not doing a good enough job at being a parent. But usually it’s just the opposite – they’re so focused on being a great mom or dad that there’s hardly any room left for other things, including themselves.
What are the symptoms of postpartum anxiety?
Both postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety share similar symptoms such as difficulty sleeping or feeling afraid. But postpartum anxiety symptoms are associated with excessive worry, rather than sadness. Symptoms of postpartum anxiety can include:
- Obsessive thoughts or worries about your baby – For example, you might be constantly checking to make sure your baby is breathing as they sleep or are extremely scared that you won’t know what to do if your baby has a fever.
- Racing thoughts – Usually, these thoughts are centered on making sure you’re doing everything perfectly for your baby.
- Panic attacks – Panic attacks are sudden, intense feelings of anxiety or fear. Physical symptoms can include shaking, nausea, rapid irregular heartbeat, breathlessness, sweating and feeling dizzy or disoriented.
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.
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.
Can dads get baby blues, postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety too?
Yes. Dads and other non-birthing parents can experience the baby blues, or postpartum depression or anxiety. While they aren’t the birthing parent, they’re also adjusting to a new life and new stressors.
More research is needed, but current data shows that 10% of dads experience depression after their child is born. And if the mom or birthing parent has postpartum depression, then their partner has a 40% chance of being depressed, too.
Get more information on how to help your partner with postpartum depression or anxiety.
How long does postpartum depression or postpartum 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 postpartum anxiety
Parenthood is both beautiful and stressful – sometimes all at once. If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed some days, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother or parent. But it’s important to pay attention to your feelings.
While baby blues go away after a couple of weeks, if you’re experiencing postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, you’ll need extra support.
Before leaving the hospital, and during your first few postpartum visits or you baby’s well-checks, you may fill out a short questionnaire that helps screen for postpartum depression and anxiety. But you can also ask a healthcare provider for a screening at any time. Here is an example of the postpartum screening questionnaire 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. Talk about how you’re feeling with your OB-GYN or midwife, or your child’s pediatrician.
Your care team can work with you to find resources and create a personalized treatment plan that may include therapy, medication or lifestyle changes – helping you handle your new role as a parent and getting you back to feeling like your normal self again.