What Moms Should Know About the Baby Blues

We’ve all heard of postpartum depression, but it’s time to shed light on its less serious and more common counterpart: the baby blues.

Baby blues

With celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Cardi B, and Adele opening up about their experiences with postpartum depression, maternal mental health concerns are finally getting the attention they deserve. Still, many women remain confused about the difference between postpartum depression and its less serious counterpart: the baby blues. We’re here to shed light on this common condition–outlining the symptoms, explaining the causes, and discussing ways mothers can cope with these unsettling feelings.

What are the baby blues?

The baby blues are a normal response to the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood, affecting up to 80% of women. Typically, the blues arrive several days after the baby’s birth and may include: feelings of overwhelm, tearfulness, sadness, mood shifts, and anxiety.

Because our culture glamorizes motherhood, many mothers may feel confused and ashamed when these unsettling emotions arise–fearful that it means they won’t be good mothers. What they don’t realize, however, is that feeling blue is a typical response to the stress that accompanies this new, lifelong role.

Hormonal changes play a part.

Immediately after the baby’s birth, hormones like progesterone and estrogen take a nose dive. This sudden shift can cause women to feel more tearful, anxious, and overwhelmed. According to doctors, women with a history of premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual dysphoric disorder may be more sensitive to these postpartum hormonal fluctuations.

While the symptoms may overlap, it’s essential for new mothers to note that the baby blues and postpartum depression/anxiety are not the same things. With the baby blues, symptoms do not worsen over time, and they do not interfere with mom’s ability to care for herself or for her baby.

Psychological adjustment to new motherhood

There’s nothing as profound as becoming a parent for the first time, and adjusting to your new identity is a process. Even though parenting books and classes can teach us how to care for our baby’s physical needs, they can’t always prepare us for the unpredictable emotional terrain that motherhood brings.

In my work as a psychologist, many mothers tell me that they miss their day-to-day freedom, their pre-mom identities, and uninterrupted nights of sleep. As their pre-baby lives become mere memories, some women experience deep pangs of grief as they grapple with what parenthood has taken away.

Finding support

With all of these changes and disruptions to daily life, it’s no wonder new mothers often feel blue. But finding the right type of support can help you navigate this time of transition.

New mom support groups and neighborhood mommy meet-ups can be great places to connect with other mothers. For many women, hearing about another mom’s feelings of ambivalence, sadness, and overwhelm can feel validating, breaking the shame cycle that often silences us.

Private Facebook groups and online forums also exist and can help mothers connect with an online community. Learning from a ‘mommy mentor’ can also be helpful. Mentors are veteran moms who’ve weathered the emotional trials of parenting. Often, they offer support and wisdom to new moms who need additional TLC. Organizations like Postpartum Support International or local parenting listservs can be a useful outlet to find this type of guidance.

When to seek psychological help

Often, symptoms of the baby blues begin to improve after a couple of weeks. If they worsen, reach out to your doctor for a mental health screening.

Unknown to many families, postpartum depression is the number one complication of pregnancy affecting 15-20%of mothers. While symptoms of the baby blues and PPD overlap, signs of maternal depression may also include: irritability and anger, isolating from loved ones, difficulty bonding with the baby, feelings of hopelessness, appetite, and sleep changes, and in rare cases, thoughts about self-harm or harming the baby.

It’s also vital for mothers to know the signs of another perinatal mood disorder: postpartum anxiety. Symptoms of PPA may include: difficulty sleeping, endless worries about the baby’s safety, fear of leaving the house, and feelings of irritability.

Both maternal mental health concerns are treatable, and an early diagnosis lets moms find the help they need. Psychotherapy, group support, mindfulness/meditation, and medication (when needed) are recommended treatments.

Mothers are never to blame for perinatal mood disorders. There’s nothing wrong with emotionally struggling as you adjust to the new waters of parenthood. In fact, facing painful feelings often helps them shrink. And making our emotional health a priority shows our kids that self-care is a necessary and essential aspect of well-being.