Is It Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression? How to Know

postpartum depressionIt's very normal to experience a wide range of emotions and physical changes throughout pregnancy, labor and delivery, and in the first weeks after giving birth. It's a rollercoaster. Learning that you are expecting brings anticipation and a flurry of planning, along with a rapidly changing body and hormonal surges that can take emotions on a wild ride. Then there's usually some apprehension about labor and delivery, followed by elation at the birth of the newest family member.

The After-Birth: Mood Swings and Hormone Changes

It's hardly surprising that most new moms feel out of sorts after giving birth; these "baby blues" are a very typical response to rapidly changing hormone levels that occur post pregnancy. In fact studies show that 50 – 75% of new moms will be hit with some form of the "baby blues" in the weeks after giving birth…with symptoms including tearfulness, irritability, anxiety and fatigue.

There's certainly societal pressure and an expectation that new moms will feel blissful after giving birth, so many are hesitant to talk about their emotions, and may even feel a degree of guilt or shame if they aren't feeling fully joyful during what they anticipated would be the happiest time of their lives.

In truth, giving birth and the transition to motherhood is challenging for most women. While there is joy and happiness, it can also be a difficult time with a disjointed schedule, a sore and changing body, anxieties brought on by serious new responsibilities, and often sleep-deprivation. New mothers deserve some leeway and understanding in the first weeks and months after giving birth. It's normal to have some mood swings, irritability, and elevated emotions. These reactions are most often a response to the stir of hormonal soup and to the process of adjusting to lifestyle changes and challenges that a new baby brings.

How Do I Know if What I'm Feeling is Normal Baby Blues or More Serious Postpartum Depression?

Most women experience form of baby blues in the initial days and for perhaps several weeks after giving birth, with symptoms that include mood swings, sadness, anxiety, or a sense  or overwhelmed. Some new moms lose their appetites or have trouble sleeping, even though they are constantly tired as they try to adjust to a sleep schedule interrupted by meeting their newborns needs.

Psychologist Dr. Eliot Rossenbaum says that the symptoms of postpartum depression are more severe and last longer, and "can occur any time within the first year after childbirth," If you have postpartum depression, a condition it is estimated that afflicts 10-20% of new mothers, you will experience these same baby blues emotions, along with other, more troubling symptoms. Dr. Rossenbaum urges women to see their physician if these blues last more than a few weeks, or if their experience includes thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby, a continuing lack of interest in the child, inability to care for yourself or your child, confusion, hallucinations, and rapid mood swings.

Dr. Rossenbaum says that "many women don't tell anyone about their symptoms, out of a feeling of shame and guilt. Often these new moms are worried that they will be viewed as an unfit parent, and they're embarrassed about their depression at a time when expectations say that they should be happy." Rossenbaum urges these women to seek treatment right away because " there is no need for a woman to continue suffering with postpartum depression when help is available. Any woman can become depressed after having a baby, and as a society we should not attach any stigma to this condition, especially since doing so discourages women from getting the help that they need and deserve."

Physicians can treat depression with medications to help relieve the symptoms, and may also recommend that the patient talks to a therapist or psychologist to learn how to change the way the depression makes them feel, think and act. Your doctor will likely advise you to make some changes that can improve the situation: including getting more rest by sleeping whenever the baby sleeps, asking your partner or friends and family to help when you feel overwhelmed, discussing your feelings and talking with others who share this same experience, and taking a time-out by allowing yourself the occasional break to spend time away from baby – alone or with friends whose company you enjoy, Try to avoid making major changes – a new career, moving to a new home – during this time as they will add unneeded stress. Sometimes lifestyle changes just can't be avoided, and if that's the situation you find yourself in, look for and ask for support as you need it.

Dr. Rossenbaum reminds women feeling any form of the blues that there are often hormonal issues at the root of their feelings. Levels of estrogen and progesterone are at their highest during pregnancy, and plummet after delivery, This process is often the trigger for the "baby blues." He says that "giving birth is both physically and emotionally exhausting, and a profound experience unique to women. If you find yourself to be angry, sad, or depressed after a few weeks, you need help. And there's no shame in asking for it."

If you are concerned about your health and well-being, or are afraid you may harm yourself or others, contact your doctor immediately.