Why am I crying?!—Is it baby blues, postpartum depression, or something else?

Postpartum Depression

It’s no secret that a person’s hormones make some dramatic shifts in the days, weeks, and even months after having a baby. You may have heard that feeling sad and even crying all the time is normal and to be expected. And it’s true that some amount of feeling down and weepy is totally normal for someone who has recently given birth. But postpartum mood disorders (including postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and others) are also extremely common—and treatable. 

Estimates vary, but according to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 1 in 7 women will experience peripartum (before or after birth) depression. So you may be asking yourself, “how do I know if I have postpartum depression, anxiety, or something else? How do I know whether to contact my doctor or midwife, or if it’s just the baby blues and will go away on its own? 

The short answer is that you should contact your provider if you are at all concerned about your mental health. As with any medical condition, you can’t diagnose yourself with—or rule out—a postpartum mood disorder based on an article (or a postpartum depression quiz) on the internet. 

That being said, we’ve put together some common symptoms to help you understand the difference between baby blues and postpartum mood disorders (PPMD). It’s important to note, though, that we are not medical providers and this summary is for informational purposes only. Again, if you have any concerns about your mental or physical health, please contact your doctor or midwife. 

First, let’s talk about what to expect from a typical postpartum recovery. 

Many people (up to 70%) experience weepiness, feeling blue, and other emotional fluctuations in the days after giving birth. This is sometimes referred to as “the baby blues” and is a normal reaction to the dramatic hormonal changes your body is going through after having a baby. The following are common symptoms of the baby blues:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, angry, or a combination of the three
  • Finding yourself in tears over things you ordinarily wouldn’t cry about
  • Having trouble sleeping or eating
  • Questioning whether you’re really cut out for this whole parenting thing
  • Symptoms begin (and peak) a few days after birth
  • After the first few days, you begin to feel more and more like “yourself” each day; symptoms generally subside within a couple of weeks

A postpartum mood disorder, at first glance, can look a lot like baby blues. The major difference is that with PPMD, symptoms generally last much longer and are severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Another difference is the timing of symptoms. While baby blues are usually gone by about 2 weeks postpartum (after birth), PPMD symptoms generally begin a week or more after giving birth and can last months or longer. 

So if your symptoms aren’t going away—or they seem to be getting worse instead of better—it’s time for a conversation with your doctor. It may be something as simple as not getting enough sleep (our overnight doulas can help with that!), but if it is something more serious, you should get the care you need as soon as possible. 

Treatment options for PPMD include medications, therapy, or a combination of the two. Postpartum depression treatment often involves the use of antidepressants—many of which are safe to take while breastfeeding—and/or therapy.

In addition to medical treatment, the American Psychiatric Association stresses the importance of a strong support system (and plenty of sleep!) in managing the symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder. 

In addition to being well-versed in the symptoms and challenges PPMD often presents, the doulas at Omaha Birth & Babies are experts at supporting new parents and helping them adjust to and manage all the new tasks and responsibilities that come with a new baby. They will also help you to take care of yourself—making sure you’re eating nutritious meals and snacks, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest (our overnight doulas can even help you get a full night’s sleep!). 

our doulas will talk (and listen) to you about what you’re going through without judgment and without well-intentioned quips about how happy you “should” be

Perhaps most importantly, our doulas will talk (and listen) to you about what you’re going through without judgment and without well-intentioned quips about how happy you “should” be. We know your feelings are real and valid, and we know that they don’t make you any less of a wonderful parent. 

The thought of being depressed or anxious as a new parent can feel overwhelming, but if this is something you’re experiencing, please know it’s not your fault. There are a variety of risk factors for PPMD and sometimes, even without apparent risk factors, it just happens. And while postpartum mood disorders most often affect the parent who gave birth, dads and other partners can experience—and receive treatment for—them as well. 

Our advice to prepare is the same as for any parent: build a strong support system, find a provider you trust, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Sources:

https://www.acog.org/patients/FAQs/Postpartum-Depression#blues

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression

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