Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety. What’s the difference?

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Recognize the Symptoms and Know How to Feel Better

A major concern for pregnant women, new mothers and their families is postpartum depression. To add to their concern is the confusion surrounding the terms used to describe the various postpartum moods, recognizing their symptoms and knowing how to treat them.

Baby blues, postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis are not interchangeable, although they may sometimes share some symptoms. Postpartum mood disorders is the large umbrella term used for all these mental health issues. Also included in this catchall phrase are the lesser known “postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder” often seen after a traumatic birth, emergency C-section or illness and “postpartum OCD.”

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Why do some women suffer from postpartum mood disorders?

To some degree, postpartum mood disorders are caused by the hormonal changes of pregnancy and/or the drop in hormones after delivery. Add to the hormonal shift: sleep disruption or deprivation, not eating a healthy or nutritional postpartum diet, dealing with a woman’s own physical recovery, new parents’ generalized worry of their newborn, a history of depression or mental health issues, and a host of other situational or personal anxieties, one can understand why a new mom may have a postpartum mood disorder.

Here is the breakdown of the various mood disorders and their symptoms. A woman may experience all or just some.

Baby blues symptoms are:

  • Impatience
  • weepiness or crying for no apparent reason
  • Irratability
  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • insomnia (even when the baby sleeps)
  • sadness
  • mood changes
  • poor concentration

These symptoms may come and go but generally last no more than two weeks. If symptoms do last longer, you may be suffering from something else. Read on.

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Postpartum depression symptoms are:

  • sadness
  • crying for no apparent reason
  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • feeling like you’re not doing a good job as a new parent
  • not bonding with your baby
  • can’t eat
  • insomnia (even when baby sleeps)
  • can’t take care of your baby or yourself because of overwhelming despair
  • anxiety or panic attacks

As you can see, there are some shared symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression. However, postpartum depression will last longer than two weeks or may appear for the first time up to a year postpartum. New fathers can also suffer from postpartum depression.

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Postpartum anxiety appears in 10% of postpartum women. It can accompany depression or stand alone. The symptoms of postpartum anxiety are:

  • constant worry
  • feeling that something bad is going to happen
  • racing thoughts
  • disturbances of sleep and appetite
  • inability to sit still
  • physical symptoms like dizziness, hot flashes and nausea

Postpartum psychosis is a rare illness but an emergency. It’s onset is sudden and generally occurs within 2 weeks of giving birth. The symptoms of postpartum psychosis are:

  • delusions or strange beliefs
  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • feeling very irritated
  • hyperactivity
  • decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • paranoia and suspiciousness
  • rapid mood swings
  • difficulty communicating at times

Infanticide and suicide are a risk with postpartum psychosis. Immediate mental health care is imperative.

Treatment and recovery

The good news is that all of these disorders are temporary and treatable. It’s also important to note that new parents are NOT to blame, nor are you alone. New moms suffering from all of these mood disorders benefit from being taken care of in a variety of ways.

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If you’ve got the baby blues:

  • Rest and sleep as much as you can while others watch the baby.
  • Eat healthy and nutritious foods that someone else prepares for you.
  • Go for walks or do gentle exercise (if your doctor gives you the ok).
  • Ask for help from family and friends or hire a postpartum doula. They are trained professionals who will support and care for you.
  • Share your struggles with friends. You’re very likely to hear similar stories and get the emotional support you need.

If you suspect you have postpartum anxiety, depression, OCD, or post-traumatic stress disorder:

Seek help quickly from a mental health professional specifically trained in these areas AND get support from caring friends or a postpartum doula. Studies have shown that having a supportive adult during the postpartum period reduces the risk or duration of postpartum depression. Don’t wait to see if it’ll go away on its own.

You can start with your OB for medication or a referral, if you don’t already have a therapist. An antidepressant (and talk therapy) will likely reduce and manage your symptoms until no longer necessary. And not to worry if you are breastfeeding. There are safe medications to take while nursing. Speak to your doctor.

If you or a loved one has postpartum psychosis seek help immediately. This is an emergency situation.

Whether it’s the baby blues or any other postpartum mood disorder, there is no stigma in getting the help you need. Treatment benefits you, your baby and your whole family. Know you’re still a good mom, doing the best you can. You just need a little help taking care of you.

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