When Baby Blues Become Postpartum Depression

There’s a common myth that childbirth, while painful, is a magical, transformative experience full of bliss and female power. And there’s truth to that. Having a baby can be one of the happiest and most meaningful times of a person’s life.

But what happens when that’s not your reality? You might be feeling just the opposite: sad, hopeless, and inadequate. You wonder if you have what it takes to be the parent you want to be.

This is not as uncommon as you’d think. In fact, it’s very normal for new parents to experience a dip in their mood, regardless of their gender. With your hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and stress of becoming a parent, it’s not surprising that 60-80% of new moms experience the baby blues while around 13%, or a little more than 1 in 8, experience postpartum depression. Believe it or not, postpartum depression is the most common complication of pregnancy.

Baby Blues is a Real Thing

You’ve just had a baby or recently become a new parent and you’re finding yourself on an emotional rollercoaster. You feel tired or cranky. Your fuse is very short and you have mood swings. It might seem like one second you’re completely fine and the next second you’re crying. This is what’s called the baby blues.

The vast majority of new moms experience it, which doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. The good news is: it usually occurs a few days after giving birth and goes away within two weeks, often without requiring treatment.

Sometimes these feelings linger or get worse. If this is the case for you, you may have postpartum depression.

What is Postpartum Depression?

After a couple of weeks, if you’re still not experiencing the bonding you expected or you find yourself consumed with worry about being a terrible parent, you may be experiencing something deeper than the baby blues.

Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a mood disorder that is often called peripartum or perinatal depression because it can begin at any time during pregnancy or within 4 weeks to 6 months after giving birth.

There is no definitive cause though it has been linked to a difficult pregnancy or birth, relationship issues, lack of support, a family history of bipolar disorder or depression, and major life stressors like money issues, moving, and grief. In reality, it can happen to anyone, and often there is no recognizable reason at all.

It’s important to keep in mind that postpartum depression is treatable and once you know the signs, you can get help right away.

Postpartum Depression Symptoms Might Include

    • You’re often sad tearful, down, or bummed out
    • You have feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or regret (eg. I’m not a good mom. I shouldn’t have had this child. I’m a failure.) 
    • You’re not feeling connected or bonded to your baby
    • You no longer experience pleasure or joy in things you used to love
    • Your eating habits or appetite have changed
    • You can’t sleep even when you have the chance to or you’re sleeping too much
    • You’re usually extremely tired and depleted
    • You have trouble concentrating and feel slowed down
    • You’re afraid of being alone or going outside
    • You feel angry or in a panic, you’re more anxious than usual
    • You think about death or suicide or of harming your baby

It’s totally normal to become irritated with your baby from time to time. And who among us feels completely confident in their parenting skills?  Yet, if your symptoms are severe or lasting for two weeks or longer, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

If you’re still not sure, you can try taking a self-directed questionnaire called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. If you score 5 or above, it can be worth speaking to a professional to prevent any symptoms from getting worse or to treat the symptoms that you are already struggling with.

A Note on Postpartum Psychosis

In very rare cases, a woman can develop postpartum psychosis, which is a serious and potentially life-threatening, though treatable illness. If you or your loved one who recently gave birth is feeling confused, mistrustful, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, or seeming cut off or completely different, seek help immediately.

How Long Does Postpartum Depression Last?

When you’re suffering, it makes complete sense to want to know if there is an end in sight. You’re probably wondering when you are going to feel like your normal self again. And when you are going to start to feel connected to your baby.

Without treatment, Postpartum depression can last for months or even years. But whether you have mild, moderate, or severe depression, all are treatable. With everything else that you have on your plate right now, you absolutely deserve help.

What else could it be?

Postpartum depression is one of the more common perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, but there are others. It can help to know about these as you think about getting help.

Anxiety During Pregnancy & Postpartum

Anxiety can be experienced as part of postpartum depression or as its own separate thing. If you catch yourself worrying all the time, feeling dizzy or like something terrible is going to happen, having trouble relaxing, or losing your appetite, you might have a perinatal anxiety disorder. Similar to PPD, perinatal anxiety is treatable and talk therapy can help.

Postpartum OCD

This is one of the most misdiagnosed and misunderstood perinatal disorders. Symptoms can be frightening, including intrusive thoughts of harming your baby. It can feel very out of the blue and distressing. You might also notice that you’re compulsively checking on your baby, avoiding them, or seeking repeated reassurance about their health. Like the others, psychotherapy is a helpful piece of the treatment for postpartum OCD.

Other mental health issues to consider during this period are Bipolar Disorder, which fluctuates between depression and mania or hypomania, and PTSD which can arise from trauma that occurs during the delivery or postpartum period. If you’re wondering, it is always best to get the support of a professional who can help you sort through your symptoms and figure out what’s going on.

Postpartum Depression is Treatable

As a new parent, PPD affects your health, your experience, and your connection with your baby. In turn, this can impact your baby’s health and lead to eating, sleeping, and behavioral problems later on.

But first things first. If you experience postpartum depression it is not your fault and you are not to blame. There are some things that you can do to stave it off and recover from it, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

Postpartum depression treatment often includes psychotherapy, sometimes in combination with medications. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, offers a safe, non-judgmental space to understand your feelings and develop tools and techniques to cope with your symptoms and start feeling better.

Self-care is an essential piece to managing depression. But when you’re a new parent, it’s not always possible to prioritize sleep, eating healthy foods, and remain active. Support from your spouse, partner, family members, and friends can go a long way. But with postpartum depression that’s likely not enough.

These days, there are more resources than ever. As a busy, overwhelmed, or exhausted new parent, you don’t have to travel or spend an arm and a leg to get high-quality treatment. With the advent of online therapy (teletherapy), you can finally incorporate this crucial treatment into your regular schedule.

Having a baby is not something you’re going to experience very often in your life, and you don’t have to miss out on it because of postpartum depression. High quality, cost-effective, and essential support is available at Calmerry. When you’re ready, we’re here.

Kate Dubé

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) | Berkeley

Kate Dubé is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and mental health writer trained at UC Berkeley and UCSF in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, mindfulness, psychodynamic and psychoanalytic approaches. She specializes in creating a therapeutic space to work through daily stressors, anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues and life transitions, including parenthood. Kate incorporates her clinical expertise to create well-researched, accessible content on topics ranging… Read more