Baby Blues Or Postpartum Depression? How To Recognize The Difference

June 12, 2019  |  

African American woman holding newborn baby

Source: Ariel Skelley / Getty

Several hours after giving birth to my daughter, I found myself alone, in a hospital bed, weeping uncontrollably. My husband had gone home to walk the dog and my parents went home to get some rest with plans to return later that day.

As my phone constantly went off with back-to-back congratulatory text messages, requests for pictures and FaceTime sessions, I felt anger. Here I was sleep deprived, sore, struggling to accomplish basic things like making a bowel movement, and all people wanted to do is laugh and kiki. I switched my phone to silent. I didn’t want to be bothered.

I struggled to make sense of my feelings. I was so deeply in awe of the little girl I had just given birth to and thankful to have made it through childbirth without complications, but at the same time, I felt like an emotional wreck and I couldn’t seem to get a grip.

“I can’t stop crying. Is this normal?” I finally broke down and asked one of the nurses in the maternity ward.

She reassured me that it was, but offered no further explanation. The first day rolled into the second and things didn’t improve. Any time that I was left alone in that hospital room, I quickly spiraled into despair. I was falling apart.

At night, I stared at my husband with angry gazes as he slept soundly on the hospital room’s pull-out bed while I was up nursing our daughter every other hour.

“What the f-ck is he so tired from?” I thought to myself. At this point I was seething.

I was happy to finally get out of the hospital and, for a short time, it seemed that my emotions had regulated. However, it wasn’t long before the weepiness and anger returned. Only this time, it had a schedule. Around 4 pm each day, I would find myself battling with this heavy rain cloud of sadness. By 5 pm, I’d lose the fight and could usually be found sobbing on the couch — not because anything was wrong, but simply because the sun was going down.

“What’s wrong?” my confused husband asked one evening during one of my episodes.

“I don’t know,” I said between sobs. “I just get so sad when the sun goes down.”

I realized how ridiculous this sounded, but I loved him for pretending to understand. I often caught my relatives shooting each other concerned glares during those difficult few weeks. I knew what the looks meant. They were worried that I was experiencing postpartum depression. I was afraid of this as well, which made me even more frantic. I later learned that what I was experiencing was a mood disorder on the postpartum depression spectrum known as the baby blues.

“There are many layers of postpartum mood disorders, characterized by a range of emotions from changing moods, irritability, and weepiness, to marked agitation, delusions, confusion, and delirium,” women’s health expert and OB/GYN Dr. Jessica Shepherd told MadameNoire. “Baby blues” are very common and are experienced by most women to some extent. It is more commonly seen in western countries and societies because of the lack of strong familial support and bonding. It is said to be as high as 40–85%. The symptoms arise within the first 10 days post-childbirth and peak around 3–5 days.”

As I sat back and began to analyze my situation, I realized that I was dreading the nighttime because I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep. It felt like the entire world was sound asleep except me and my baby. That mindset in itself created extreme feelings of isolation. Once I began to learn more about baby blues, I found it easier to cope. One thing that helped me avoid that feeling of impending doom at sunset was getting out of the house every day. The other was getting more sleep, which meant taking off my imaginary cape and asking for or accepting help from my loved ones.

According to Dr. Shepherd, while the baby blues and postpartum depression (PD) are definitely cousins,, the difference between the two is the length of time symptoms are experienced by the new mother and the level of interference that they cause within her daily life.

“The difference between postpartum baby blues and postpartum depression is that the symptoms of PD generally do not interfere with the social and day-to-day functioning of women,” she explained. Furthermore, proper support from family and friends can help new moms to overcome the baby blues.

“It is self-limiting meaning it resolves over a short time period and with the correct social support and reassurance from the family members. It can also be attributed to changes in hormonal levels of women, and then by the stress following delivery,” said Dr. Shepherd. “However, when postpartum blues persist for more than 2 weeks, this may indicate a more severe form of mood disorders.”

New moms are encouraged to seek immediate medical attention if the depression lingers for longer than a couple of weeks because this is often indicative of postpartum depression. While it can be both scary and daunting to ask for this kind of help, it’s a necessary step towards getting well.

“Physicians and medical care professionals can help minimize the effects by having the patient involved in awareness and also a treatment plan,” says Shepherd. “Having support for the mother is highly recommended especially at night to minimize sleep disruption. Most importantly, reassurance and emotional support toward the mother can boost the self-esteem and confidence of the mother.”

Did you experience postpartum depression or the baby blues? How did you overcome?


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