The “baby blues” is a common phrase used to describe feelings of low mood, irritability, and fatigue in mothers after giving birth. Research shows that approximately 75% of new mothers experience these feelings following childbirth. However, there has been a widely held misconception surrounding the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression (PPD). According to research, postpartum depression is the most common psychological disorder in parents following the birth of a child. Unlike the baby blues, which often clear up with a week or two, postpartum depression is the presence of severe depressive symptoms that occur any time from immediately after birth and can last up to a year or two later. Symptoms often include depressed or low mood, fatigue, sleep issues, low self-esteem, anxiety, lack of enjoyment in activities, and even self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

Due to high prevalence rates of postpartum depressive symptoms, it is important for new mothers and their support systems to become aware of the warning signs of PPD as well as protective or preventative factors.

Warning Signs of PPD:

1. “Baby blues” don’t get better: Although a change in mood is common in the first couple weeks following childbirth, continued depressive symptoms may be a sign of something more severe. If you begin to feel hopeless or symptoms continue for weeks or months, you may be experiencing PPD.

2. Overwhelming sadness or guilt: Similar to the baby blues, feeling sad once in a while is a normal human experience. However, if you’re often doubting your ability as a parent or feeling guilty about feeling depressed, these may be signs of postpartum depression.

3. Lost interest: Changes in habits and mood are common in PPD. Losing interest people and activities you used to find enjoyable can often be a sign of depression.

4. Difficulty making decisions: Some people have an easier time making choices than others. However, if you’re finding it difficult to make decisions or feeling like you just don’t care about getting out of bed, changing diapers, or taking a shower, it may be time to speak with your doctor about postpartum depression and its symptoms.

5. Sleep has changed: As new a parent, your sleep is almost always going to change. However, if you’re unable to get rest even while your baby is sleeping or you’re sleeping almost all the time, these are likely signs of new unhelpful sleep patterns. Poor sleep can be a risk factor as well as something that maintains postpartum depression.

6. Thinking about harming yourself: Advanced signs of PPD could include thoughts suicide or harming yourself or your child. They may also be a sign of a rare but serious mental illness, postpartum psychosis, which can occur with postpartum depression. If you’re having any sort of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, call your doctor or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-8255 or the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Both are available 24 hours.

Protective Factors:

1. Household resources: Things like access to gas for cooking, a telephone, furniture, and electricity help new mothers develop and maintain a home that is safe and stable. These factors, in turn, can prevent certain stressful events that may lead to the development of PPD.

2. Social and emotional supports: Just like a lack of supports can be a risk factor for developing PPD, having a good system of social and emotional supports can help prevent postpartum depression or even aid in treatment. Support groups or group therapy may be great way for new mothers to feel connected to others experiencing similar things, giving them an outlet and shoulders to lean on.

3. Early intervention: Many researchers and mental health and medical professionals encourage mothers to speak with their providers early in the perinatal period to ensure good supports and resources.

Recognizing the warning signs of postpartum depression may be an effective way of catching PPD early enough to begin treating symptoms before they progress in severity.

Written by Kylie Hastings, M.S.