The Baby Blues
You did it! You made it to around 40 weeks pregnant, went through an exhausting labor, and now have a tiny newborn cocooned into your arms.
Throughout your pregnancy you daydreamed about blissful moments of holding your baby; their sleepy eyes blinking at you in slow motion, their wrinkly hand curving around your finger, your heart bursting from pure admiration of your new little, and now it’s finally happening.
You’re sent home from the hospital, running on no sleep and adrenaline, ready to introduce the world to your newest creation. A few days go by, but instead of joy and happiness, you start to feel...different.
Enter: Baby Blues
If you’re experiencing the baby blues, you aren’t alone. It’s easy to feel like something is wrong with you, but 70% of mamas (even seasoned ones) experience these feelings of overwhelm and sadness. And with good reason!
Regardless of your delivery method, childbirth is not easy. The hormones that come afterward can feel equally as challenging; add on sleepless nights, a milk monster, and never-ending diaper changes - it’s no wonder you’re feeling a little down!
In this article:
- What is the baby blues?
- When do baby blues kick in?
- How long can baby blues last?
- Baby Blues vs PPD
- Signs of baby blues
- How to prevent baby blues
- How to help someone with baby blues
What is the baby blues?
Becoming a mom is a life changing experience. The first six weeks postpartum are highly challenging as you get to know your little and learn your new role as a mom.
To put it simply: hormones are high, quality of sleep is low, and everyone is crying.
Baby blues refer to a short time period after you give birth when you feel, well, blue. It’s classified as short spells of irregular mood changes like sadness, irritability, and frustration. Unlike postpartum depression, these emotions go away as quickly as they came.
The exact cause of the baby blues is unknown, but it’s thought that your hormone surges, exhaustion, and sudden change of life are all major contributors. This article explains that Cortisol, a natural hormone that helps control your mood (aka “the stress hormone”), gradually increases throughout your pregnancy, peaks during delivery, and then drops to baseline within three days. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster!
When do baby blues kick in?
These feelings usually begin two to three days postpartum, which is right around when the adrenaline from childbirth wears off.
It’s also right around the time the baby is starting to “wake up” to the world around you, and when you’re sent home from the hospital.
Being released into the world with a newborn can seem really scary, and you may be thinking “How in the world did this hospital let me leave with a child?! I have no clue what I’m doing!” Your fears and concerns are totally normal! Once you’ve settled into a routine with your babe, you’ll feel a lot more confident. Pinky swear.
How long can baby blues last?
A mood swing caused by baby blues can last anywhere from a quick thought (a few minutes) to a mild anxiety attack (a few hours), but it’s important to note that these thoughts go away. These emotions should lessen and disappear by two weeks postpartum.
If you find that your moods become consistent and the thoughts never really go away, this could be a sign of something serious. Make sure to talk with your doctor.
Baby Blues vs PPD
The main difference between postpartum depression (PPD) and baby blues is the severity of your moods. Symptoms of baby blues should go away completely by two weeks postpartum. If you find that your symptoms are getting worse and feel consistently anxious, sad, or irritated, you may have postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression occurs in approximately 15% of women in the first sixth months after having your baby but can develop at any time up to twelve months postpartum. One of the most major contributing factors for postpartum depression is a history of depression and/or anxiety, with other factors being lack of support (everyone needs a tribe!) and stressful life events.
Symptoms of postpartum depression are more intense and last longer, and often includes intrusive thoughts that make you question your role as a mother. Postpartum depression can develop during the first few weeks after delivery, building off the baby blues. It can also develop during pregnancy (called perinatal pregnancy) or after several months.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Poor eating and sleeping habits
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you're not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
In severe cases, you may have these symptoms:
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby*
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide*
*If you experience these symptoms, seek help immediately.
If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression, tell your doctor right away, especially if you have a history of anxiety or depression. The good news is postpartum depression is manageable and treatable!
Signs of baby blues
Signs and symptoms that you’re suffering from baby blues are:
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
The signs and symptoms of baby blues aren’t as severe or extensive as the symptoms for postpartum depression, but they can develop into postpartum depression over time. It’s important to recognize how you’re feeling and keep an eye on your baby blues. Let your doctor know how you’re feeling at your postpartum checkup so they can help keep an eye on it.
How to prevent baby blues
There is no one sure-fire way to prevent baby blues, but there are definitely some things you can do that will lessen the possibility that you’ll experience them.
- Put down the ice cream: Like most things in life, a healthy diet plays a large role in your mental health. Limiting sugar intake and focusing on healthy fats (guac, anyone?), proteins, fruits, and veggies will help curb inflammation (which is directly linked to depression!) and avoid that sugar crash that leads to fatigue and a poor mood.
- Now walk it out: Once you get the go ahead by your doctor, get out and go for a light stroll! Not only is the fresh air good for you and babe, but exercise is a natural mood booster. So get walkin’ mama!
- Catch some zzzz’s: We’ve all heard it; “Nap when the baby naps.” While this bit of advice may be annoying to hear, there is some truth to the statement. Newborns rarely sleep through the night, which means you’re not sleeping through the night. Unlike you, though, newborns practically nap all day. Folding that basket of laundry or doing your 3-day-old dishes may be tempting to get off your to-do list, but taking a nap when your squish is (and getting some awesome cuddles) may help ease irritability and help reduce stress.
- Coffee date, anyone? Having a coffee date with your girlfriends is always a great way to relax. Talk to them about your experience becoming a mom, and if you know any seasoned mamas, soak up their advice!If you want to make some new friends, check on Facebook for local mommy groups (like MOPS), join a mommy & me fitness class, or reach out to old friends who have families now.
- Patience you must have (as Yoda would say): Be patient with yourself. You’ve just gone through an exhausting, life-altering experience, and it’s okay if you experience an emotion other than happiness. Take some of the pressure to be the “perfect mom” off your shoulders, don’t worry about losing the baby weight, and stop comparing yourself and your baby to others. Instead, soak up those sweet baby smells and gurgles and enjoy this new season of life.
How to help someone with baby blues
- Let them sleep: As a new parent, sleep can feel practically nonexistent. Offer to come over for a couple of hours and let her get a nap in while you take care of the baby.
- Mangia, mangia! Cooking is often the last thing on a new mother’s mind. Making a casserole they can freeze and heat up later can be a life saver, but so can bringing over a fresh hot meal ready to eat (just make sure it’s healthy!)
- Talk to them: All too often once a baby arrives, the focus is taken from the mama to the babe. Make sure to ask her how she’s doing and if she needs help with anything. Getting her talking is the best way to assess if she has baby blues, and it makes her feel seen.
- If you see something that needs to be done, do it: Aside from trying to heal from childbirth and feed a constantly starving baby, most moms still feel an obligation to do the housework. By helping her out with folding laundry, taking the trash out, or washing the dishes you can eliminate a lot of stress to her, both mentally and physically. Growing a child for 40(ish) weeks, going through a (more than likely) long and exhausting labor, and then immediately having to take care of an entirely dependent human who didn’t get the memo that you’re supposed to sleep at night is hard.
Point blank period.
Add on top that you’re supposed to magically adapt to your new role as “mom” and act like you didn’t just push a watermelon out of a very intimate place (or have surgery if you’re a c-section mama) is a cocktail for feeling alone and frustrated.
It’s important to recognize how normal it is to feel these emotions in the first few weeks postpartum and to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, if these feelings last longer than two weeks and seem to be worsening, put in a call to your doctor.
American Pregnancy Association, Baby Blues, August 2015.
National Institute of Mental Health, Postpartum Depression Facts
- Emily Rader