The birth of a child is a wonderful and life-changing event. It can also trigger emotions ranging from extreme joy to severe anxiety and depression. Studies suggest that upwards of 80 percent of new mothers experience the “baby blues” or maternity blues after giving birth. Within a few days, they may have mood swings, anxiety, and periods of crying. This is normal and isn’t a sign of weakness or an indicator of parenting capability. Partners, other family members or friends, and new mothers themselves need to understand the maternity blues and the best ways to offer support and ease symptoms.
Typically, the baby blues last only a few weeks following the birth. During those weeks, a mother can experience mood swings, anxiety, and sadness. The mother may have issues with appetite and trouble sleeping. The symptom many mothers find most distressing is that the baby blues can create the feeling of a disconnect between the mother and child. Many people interpret this as a sign that they’re going to be a bad parent or that they won’t love their child, but neither of these is true; this is just a symptom of an often fleeting condition.
There are various possible causes for the baby blues. After birth, women experience radical changes in their hormone levels. While pregnant, their bodies produce high levels of estrogen, progesterone, and endorphins, and when the body suddenly stops producing these hormones after the birth, the body can go into withdrawal. Additionally, the ovaries are relatively inactive during the later months of pregnancy. It can take several weeks for them to return to their pre-pregnancy rate of hormone production.
Some non-biological factors may also affect how severely a woman experiences the baby blues. Childbirth and the following childcare take heavy physical, mental, and emotional tolls. Combined with sleep deprivation, these factors can affect the mental health of the mother. In addition, if the mother does not feel she has someone to speak with about her troubles or about her child, these symptoms may worsen.
Generally speaking, the baby blues are a mild, transient form of postpartum depression. Many mothers are aware of both conditions but fail to understand the differences between them. This leads to many women not receiving the treatment they need for proper mental health because they believe they have “just” the baby blues. Postpartum depression symptoms are similar to those of the baby blues but more severe. They may also include thoughts of suicide or feelings of worthlessness. Typically, the baby blues do not persist beyond two or three weeks. If the symptoms persist longer, even when mild, an expert will typically diagnose the condition as postpartum depression. If the symptoms are severe and prevent basic functions, experts consider a woman to have postpartum depression, even within the first weeks.
Some studies have shown that the baby blues and postpartum depression are more similar to hypomania than depression. Hypomania is a mild form of mania that features abnormally high energy levels, but not as high as with mania. The baby pinks are a reflection of this. This alternative or additional condition can accompany the baby blues. Rather than feelings of sadness or anxiety, a person with the baby pinks feels extreme and illogical elation. In some instances, the baby pinks are a sign of an incoming depressive episode, possibly leading to postpartum depression.
Despite popular belief, postpartum depression and the baby blues do not affect only the mother. Men are also susceptible to both conditions. In some cases, even parents of adopted newborns develop the symptoms, showing that the causes are not entirely biological. Men with the baby blues may feel sad, fatigued, or overwhelmed. This may affect their sleeping and eating habits. Young men, men with a history of depression, and men who struggle financially are the most at risk for developing postpartum depression and the baby blues.
One of the best ways for a parent to make it through the baby blues is with a support structure. In many cases, a person does not realize they’re experiencing the condition, so it’s up to the loved ones to notice changes in personality or living habits. It’s important to not invalidate the person’s feelings. Trying to cheer them up can have the opposite effect. Often, being present is the best type of support. Studies show that individuals with depression, postpartum depression, and the baby blues all respond better when they feel as though they are not alone. It can also be helpful to celebrate small triumphs. When a parent finally gets their child to sleep after a long period, that should be a moment of celebration.
Some methods can minimize the effects of the baby blues prior to childbirth. However, it’s important to recognize the normalcy of the condition. Developing the baby blues is not a sign that anyone has done anything wrong. Individuals with a history of depression should notify their doctor about their history as soon as they find out they’re pregnant. During the pregnancy, support groups or counseling can be effective. After childbirth, the doctor may recommend an evaluation to determine the best method of treatment.
As a new parent, it can be difficult to tell a doctor about signs of depression. Even though the baby blues are common, that does not diminish the feelings or effects they cause, or the social stigma surrounding them. If a parent feels as though they need professional assistance to manage their maternity blues, they should seek it. If anyone suspects a loved one of experiencing postpartum depression, they should contact a medical or mental health professional for advice on how to proceed.
Often, the baby blues do not require any treatment. Because the symptoms often last less than a few weeks, it is easier to simply wait them out. During this period, the best method to “treat” the baby blues is to find assistance from a partner, parents, or friends. As long as a support structure is present, new parents can receive the help they need to make it through a difficult period.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.