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Understanding the Difference between Postpartum Blues and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

By Stephanie Sublett, MD, FACOG, IBCLC

Embracing the arrival of your precious little one is a momentous occasion often filled with joy and anticipation. While this period is often portrayed as euphoric, it's important to acknowledge that for some new mothers, the early days, weeks, or even months following childbirth can bring about complex emotions, including feelings of sadness, mood fluctuations, and anxiety. These experiences, known as the "Baby Blues," typically resolve on their own after a short while. However, when these feelings persist, it may signal a more serious condition like postpartum depression (PPD) or anxiety (PPA) collectively known as Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), which require professional support. In this post, we'll delve into understanding the nuances between the Baby Blues, PPD, and PPA, emphasizing the significance of recognizing and seeking appropriate care.


Understanding the Difference between Postpartum Blues and Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Understanding the Baby Blues:


The Baby Blues, also known as postpartum mood swings, is a common experience that up to 80% of women go through after giving birth. This condition is usually a result of hormonal changes, physical exhaustion, and emotional adjustment. Symptoms of the Baby Blues typically appear a few days after childbirth and often include mood swings, sadness, irritability, tearfulness, and anxiety. These feelings are normal and usually last for only a few weeks, with most women feeling much better after about two weeks.


Recognizing Postpartum Depression (PPD):


Postpartum Depression (PPD) is an extended and more severe form of the Baby Blues affecting between 15 - 20% of women who have given birth. PPD is characterized by intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and disinterest in activities, including those once enjoyed. Symptoms commonly begin anywhere from two weeks to a year after childbirth, with women experiencing feelings of guilt, irritability, sadness, and hopelessness. Unlike the Baby Blues, PPD won't simply vanish after a few weeks. Instead, if left untreated, PPD can persist for months or even years and can also interfere with the bonding between mother and child.


Understanding Postpartum Anxiety (PPA):


Postpartum anxiety is another condition that many new mothers experience. It's estimated that 10% of new moms experience PPA symptoms such as intense worry, panic attacks, fear, and physical symptoms like muscle tension. PPA can manifest itself during pregnancy, immediately after delivery, or it may emerge entirely on its own. When left untreated, PPA can lead to depression, and the resulting impact on a mother's mental health can affect the development of the baby.


Understanding Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)

Knowing the Differences:


The key difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression is the level of intensity of the symptoms, their duration, and the consequent effect on the mother's overall wellbeing. While the Baby Blues pass reasonably quickly and do not necessarily require professional attention, postpartum depression and anxiety can have long-term effects if left untreated. Therefore, it’s essential women don't brush off the symptoms of PPD as "just the baby blues." If you're experiencing symptoms that seem more severe than the baby blues, don’t wait. Speak with your doctor and get the help you need.


Treatment Options:


Both PPD and PPA can be treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of both. Mothers can also attend support groups, talk to someone they trust, eat well and exercise to help overcome their symptoms. It is important to note that seeking help for PPD and PPA is not a sign of weakness but rather a step towards better overall health and the wellbeing of both mother and baby.


Motherhood is a significant life change, and it's perfectly normal for women to experience some emotional ups and downs. However, it’s crucial to know when feelings go beyond the "Baby Blues" and signal postpartum depression or anxiety, which can take a severe emotional and physical toll on both mother and child if left untreated. By recognizing the difference between the Baby Blues, PPD, and PPA and knowing when to ask for help, women can get the support they need to navigate this new phase of life with confidence and optimism.


If you or someone you love is suffering from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, please reach out for help. Postpartum Support International can connect you with mental health specialists in your community and offers online support groups.



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