With all the excitement that early parenthood brings, it's easy to lose track of your own emotions.
How long have those mood swings you're experiencing been going on? Is it normal to feel hollow in the moments you catch your breath? Is it okay to feel frustrated when your partner is just trying to help?
Between the fatigue, sleep deprivation, and new pressure, such incoherence is understandable. For many, these lows disappear once things have settled down a bit; their emotional fluctuation is often referred to "baby blues."
But for others, the sadness remains even after things have quieted down. These women may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).
If you think you're experiencing either – but not sure which one – read on for how to tell the difference between baby blues vs PPD.
1. Symptom severity: Baby blues are generally mild – while PPD has more severe symptoms that impair functionality
The intensity of symptoms is often the best differential between baby blues and postpartum depression. Here's what to look out for to watch for both:
Symptoms of baby blues
Symptoms of baby blues are relatively mild, and may include:
- Feeling overwhelmed with motherhood
- Emotional lability
It is important to remember that the baby blues are not considered a mild form of depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
PPD has more severe symptoms, significantly impairing the new moms’ functionality. Women with postpartum depression present with:
- Depressed mood
- Loss of pleasure or interest in daily activities
- Weight changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in energy level
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Concentration difficulties
- Suicidal thoughts
2. Duration: Postpartum depression lasts a minimum of two weeks, while baby blues subside within two weeks
Recovery time depends on a number of factors, ranging from personal history of depression to severity of symptoms and what type of support you have at home
How long baby blues last
- Last between 2 days and 2 weeks
- Symptoms often peak 3-5 days after delivery
How long postpartum depression lasts
- More intense and long-lasting symptoms that do not subside within a few weeks
- Diagnosis of postpartum depression requires a minimum period of two weeks of symptoms
- Postpartum depression can begin days, or even months, after childbirth.
- The peak of risk for developing is three months after birth.
3. Prevalence: Baby blues is 6x more common than postpartum depression
- Baby blues: Affect approximately 60-80% of new moms in the postpartum stage
- Postpartum depression: Affects approximately 12% of new moms in the postpartum stage
4. Causes: Postpartum depression is sometimes related to a history of mental health concerns; baby blues are not
Causes of postpartum depression
Research shows postpartum depression may stem from a combination of factors, including:
- Genetic vulnerability
- Biological sensitivities to hormonal changes
- Living situation and support at home (e.g., lack of partner or family support, stressful home life)
- A history of mood disorders, including (but not limited to) a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or a history of PPD from a previous pregnancy
Causes of baby blues
Baby blues are thought to be largely hormonal. Causes may be:
- Related to the hormonal fluctuation of pregnancy and birth
- Not related to chronic stress
- Not related to your psychiatric history
5. Treatment: Talk therapy is effective for both PPD and baby blues; medication may be prescribed for postpartum depression
Treatment for baby blues and postpartum depression
- Talk therapy (see below for recommended therapy types)
- Support groups for postpartum mood disorders and connecting with the local branch of PSI (Postpartum Support International)
- Increased social support: family, friends, doulas, new mom groups, childbirth education classes
- Taking care of your basic needs through having adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise
In addition, women with higher risk postpartum depression may also benefit from seeing a psychiatrist for medication (often an antidepressant).
6. Therapy types: CBT, DBT, interpersonal therapy, and psycho-education are recommended treatments
Therapy for baby blues and postpartum depression
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Interpersonal therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Support groups and group therapy
- Psycho-educational group therapy
Find therapists for baby blues and postpartum depression
Your mental health during pregnancy (the prenatal period), and after giving birth is incredibly important.
While many therapists are excited to support new mothers, it's important to find a provider who has advanced training in perinatal issues, so that you're appropriately screened for all relevant mental health issues, are provided the best evidence-based treatments, and can be recommended the necessary local supports as needed, including new mom groups, psychiatrists, and intensive programs.
In addition to the therapist’s expertise, look for a therapist you feel comfortable opening up to, and whom you fully trust.