What You'll Learn
- The Signs of Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
- How to Differentiate Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
- Recognizing Postpartum Depression When it Starts During Pregnancy
- When to Seek Treatment
- Planning for Postpartum Self-Care
Postpartum blues are a common part of having a baby. Between sleep deprivation, hormone changes, and the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a newborn, “normal” life can seem impossible. Many moms experience weepiness, irritability, and mood changes as they adjust to life as a new parent.
But these symptoms aren’t always typical baby blues—they’re also signs of postpartum depression. So how can new moms tell the difference? When should they seek care? And can they ever expect to feel “normal” again? Reproductive Psychiatrist Dr. Kristina Deligiannidis explains the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression and shares tips for knowing when to seek care.
Baby Blues vs. PPD: A Fine Line
When I was pregnant with my third son, I started to feel unlike myself. I was more exhausted than I had ever been. I already had two young boys at home, I was still nursing my second son, and fatigue hit me big time.
At first, it seemed normal. After all, who wouldn’t be exhausted with two under three and another on the way? But once my third son was born, I started to realize that the fatigue was beyond normal. I wasn’t just tired. I wasn’t just adjusting. Something more was going on.
I wasn’t just tired. I wasn’t just adjusting. Something more was going on.
But even with my experience with postpartum depression in my clients, I had trouble telling the difference. It took me a few weeks into postpartum life to decide it was time to seek help! That’s because the line between postpartum depression and baby blues can be very fine.
That’s why this conversation with Dr. Kristina is so important. Moms, if you’re out there wondering “is this normal?” you’re in the right place. Dr. Kristina and I are here with our insights on baby blues vs. postpartum depression.
The Signs of Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
The signs of baby blues and postpartum depression are often similar—tearfulness, disrupted sleep, mood swings, anxiety, and irritability. But Dr. Kristina told us that when it comes to the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression, specialists look for three factors—onset, severity, and duration.
Specialists look for three factors—onset, severity, and duration.
ONSET: Baby blues typically start within the first couple of weeks after a baby is born. With postpartum depression, it isn’t so clear-cut. Symptoms might start later, or even during pregnancy.
SEVERITY: While PPD does range in severity, it tends to come with more severe symptoms than baby blues. Moms with baby blues might find themselves fluctuating between feeling fine and experiencing bursts of sadness, but it usually isn’t as severe.
DURATION: Finally, how long the symptoms last is a big clue in determining baby blues vs. PPD. Baby blues normally don’t last more than 2-3 weeks. PPD, on the other hand, can last months or even years.
How to Differentiate Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
Determining the difference between baby blues and PPD can be tough, but there are distinct differences. In addition to the onset, severity, and duration, Dr. Kristina shared a few big factors that help distinguish between the two.
With baby blues, moms are more likely to experience “roller coasters” of emotion—fluctuations in mood. In between episodes of tearfulness, they’ll likely have moments of joy and normalcy. They’re likely to say that their moments of sadness come out of nowhere.
In PPD, however, the changes tend to be more stagnant. Moms battling PPD usually report that their sadness, anxiety and worry, loss of interest in normal activity, or tearfulness are ongoing. For example, they might feel irritable most of the time or suffer from sleep disruption every night.
But the biggest distinguishing factor between baby blues and PPD is impairment. Baby blues normally do not keep a mom from caring for herself or her baby. With PPD, taking care of yourself can feel overwhelming or impossible.
Recognizing Postpartum Depression When it Starts During Pregnancy
When I’m working with my clients, I often hear about symptoms of PPD starting during pregnancy. Many moms don’t realize that PPD can start before the baby is born.
I think back to my own experience, and the intense fatigue that was probably beyond normal pregnancy exhaustion. It was easy to dismiss my symptoms. Even clinicians will often overlook PPD during pregnancy, chalking them up to regular pregnancy hormones.
Clinicians will often overlook PPD during pregnancy, chalking them up to regular pregnancy hormones.
But according to Dr. Kristina, half of PPD cases start during pregnancy. It’s important to look for the signs even before the baby is born and seek treatment if you feel like symptoms are persisting or abnormal.
When to Seek Treatment
Sometimes moms are hesitant to seek support. We rationalize our symptoms, tell ourselves it’s just sleep deprivation, and close ourselves off instead of opening up. But seeking support was the best thing I could do for myself, for my marriage, and for my children.
So how do we know when it’s time to seek support? If your symptoms last for more than 2-3 weeks, bring it up with your doctor. But Dr. Kristina is quick to point out that if symptoms are severe, you don’t need to wait for that period of time. Go ahead and reach out earlier.
Other signs that it’s time to seek treatment are if you’re telling yourself things like:
I don’t feel like myself anymore…
I don’t remember the last time I felt normal…
Maybe I need help…
These are signs that it’s time to bring it up with a professional. If you’re at the point where you’re wondering if you should seek support, it’s probably time.
Planning for Postpartum Self-Care
My clients often reach out and ask what they can do to prepare for postpartum life. Part of that preparation comes from making a plan.
Dr. Kristina pointed out that moms often feel pressured to do it all, and that can make the adjustment very difficult. Many moms don’t feel empowered to take care of themselves.
Moms often feel pressured to do it all, and that can make the adjustment very difficult.
Setting up a plan in advance can help. Think of how others can support you. Talk to your community and establish a plan for them to check in on you. Decide on tasks that can be delegated to other people.
Most importantly, remember that it’s okay to take care of yourself. Exercise, eating healthy, sleeping—these aren’t luxuries. They matter, both for you and your baby. As Dr. Kristina said, “for babies to thrive, mom has to thrive, and families have to thrive.”
For moms battling PPD, remember that there is hope. You can and will feel like yourself again. The right support is out there for you—you just have to find it!
We have a great resource for making a postpartum plan in advance—download our Postpartum Prep List to get started!