Coping with the baby blues

Mental Health and Wellness
Coping with the baby blues

Welcoming a baby into her home can be one of the most beautiful experiences a mother (and her family) can have. There are many normal emotions that can come up when a baby is born:

  • Excitement and joy
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Sadness or feeling overwhelmed
  • Fatigue and irritability from sleep deprivation

The "baby blues"  is something that many mothers experience after the birth of a baby. It is estimated that 50 percent of new mothers experience some form of the baby blues. The baby blues can last from a few hours to two weeks and can develop in the first two or three days after delivery. Baby blues are characterized by:

  • Mood swings and crying
  • Sadness and despair
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping

When the baby blues are more severe and long-lasting, there may be a form of depression called postpartum depression, which can be more distressing to a mother and her family. Postpartum depression can occur anytime within the first year of giving birth or can occur during pregnancy, post-delivery, post-miscarriage, while weaning from breast-feeding or when adopting a child. Untreated, postpartum depression can last many months or longer. Postpartum depression can be characterized by some or all of the following:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby and/or fear of not being a good mother
  • Withdrawal from people and activities
  • Loss of appetite or increase in emotional eating
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • Decreased interest and pleasure in activities that normally bring pleasure
  • Irritability and anger
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Decreased ability to think clearly, to concentrate or make decisions
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks (chest pains, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing)
  • Thoughts of harming one’s self or the baby
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Rarely, there can be postpartum psychosis, which can lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors which need immediate treatment. Postpartum psychosis is characterized by:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Obsessive thoughts about the baby
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Paranoia
  • Attempts to harm one’s self or the baby

When to call your doctor:

  • If the sadness doesn’t fade within two weeks
  • Symptoms are worsening or are becoming intolerable
  • If your emotions are making it hard to care for the baby or do everyday tasks
  • If you have any thoughts about harming yourself or the baby, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

What your family and friends can do:

  • Offer emotional support, companionship and help with chores and responsibilities
  • Help you seek help if your symptoms are severe or intolerable

What causes or makes someone at risk for the baby blues or postpartum depression?

  • History of depression or bipolar disorder
  • Previous postpartum depression
  • Family history of depression or other mental health disorders
  • Stressful events or circumstances (such as being a single mother, having financial difficulties or conflict in the marriage or with family)
  • Problems with your health or the baby’s health post-delivery
  • Little or no support system
  • If the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted

How are the baby blues and postpartum depression treated?

For the baby blues:

  • Rest and good nutrition (avoid alcohol or drugs to self-medicate)
  • Help from friends and family
  • Reassurance and emotional support
  • Time for yourself
  • Talking to other new moms

For postpartum depression:

  • Medical evaluation
  • Therapy with a licensed mental health care provider
  • Antidepressants may be recommended

For more information:

National Institute of Mental Health

National Women’s Health Information Center