First-time motherhood can be a challenging experience for anyone. Between the sleep deprivation, hormone fluctuations, and well-meaning visitors dropping by, chances are, you barely have the time you need to scroll through parenting forums for breastfeeding tips.
Not sure if the feelings you’re having are just a bumpy transition to parenthood, or something deeper? Here’s the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression, and what to do if you’re experiencing either.
Differences between baby blues and postpartum depression
The difference between baby blues and postpartum depression is the length of time and the severity of symptoms, says Dr. Jodie Eisner, a perinatal psychologist in New York City.
Dr. Eisner, whose specialties include perinatal challenges, elaborates on the difference between the two below.
- Affect approximately 60-80% of new moms in the postpartum stage
- Last between 2 days and 2 weeks
- Often peaks 3-5 days after delivery
- Major causes: Extreme hormone fluctuation
- Unrelated to stress or psychiatric history
Symptoms of baby blues may include:
- Feeling overwhelmed with motherhood
- Some emotional lability
If you’re experiencing the baby blues, try to relax in the knowledge that they should lift on their own. Talking with a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health can help you figure out the best course of action for your situation.
- Affects approximately 12% of new moms in the postpartum stage
- Recovery time depends on a number of factors, ranging from personal history of depression to the severity of symptoms and what type of support you have at home
- Postpartum depression can begin days, or even months, after childbirth. The peak of risk for developing is three months after birth.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Weight changes
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in energy level
- Lower mood overall
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Concentration difficulties or suicidal thoughts
- Lack of interest in the baby
- Feeling really overwhelmed
- An inability to take care of oneself or family
- Isolation, mood swings
- Appetite and sleep disturbances
- Feelings of anger, guilt, and/or fear
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Possible thoughts of harming the baby or oneself
There is no single cause for postpartum depression. However, there are dynamic risk factors, such as:
- A history of depression
- A difficult relationship, or unresolved conflicts, with the mother’s own parents
- Early adverse experiences in her family of origin and history of loss
- Previous postpartum depression
If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, read on for treatment options below.
Therapy can help treat postpartum depression
Postpartum depression is treatable. Options for treatment include:
- Talk therapy, including approaches such as interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Psychotropic medication
Therapy and medications work particularly well in conjunction, but both can prove successful independently. A panel of experts recently reported that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy may be the most effective treatments for most women with postpartum depression.
Because postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and other perinatal concerns are mental health conditions that require specialized training, it’s important to prioritize a therapist’s expertise in this field when seeking professional support. In addition, you should also have a strong level of comfort with the therapist and feel that they truly understand what you are experiencing so you can open up to them.
Some great resources for finding therapists who specialize in postpartum depression include Postpartum Support International, which provides many of the trainings for professionals specializing in perinatal mental health, and Zencare.co, which has a vetted network of therapists for postpartum depression in NYC, Boston, and Rhode Island.
Yoga, light exercise, and reconnecting with your partner can also help with postpartum depression
Dr. Susan Park, a woman’s health psychiatrist in New York City whose specialties include perinatal depression and anxiety, suggests easy activity for lifting symptoms of postpartum depression. “I recommend starting light exercises like yoga early in the postpartum period, and to leave the house once a day for fresh air.”
Dr. Park continues, “I encourage my patients to spend some time alone but also to find the time to reconnect with their partners. It may be daunting to leave an infant for a date night; however, it is important to spend quality time with your spouse over simple activities like going for a walk or getting a cup of coffee.”
If your partner or loved one is experiencing postpartum depression, here’s how you can help
Dr. Eisner has one easy and simple tip for helping out new moms: Let them sleep!
“Sleep disturbances are implicated in mood disorders, whether it’s sleeping too much, or not enough,” she says. “Restorative sleep will help new moms better manage their moods and work through their anxiety and depression.”
She also notes that validating their experiences is crucial, and encouraging them to seek care is highly beneficial—because postpartum depression is treatable.