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3 Major Differences Between the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression (PPD)



A common misconception among many people is that the baby blues, or the postpartum blues, is the same as postpartum depression (PPD). This is an inaccurate assumption, and the two are very different experiences. Postpartum depression is a clinical mental health condition and the baby blues is not. You may have even believed this yourself at some point until you realized that perhaps the struggles you experienced seemed like something more. You’re right in that there is more to postpartum depression than mood swings and crying spells. Let’s talk about it.

Key Differences Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

While there may be a few similarities between postpartum blues and postpartum depression, there are also some vast differences between them. One of the biggest differences is that a mother’s mood is generally happy even if she is struggling with the baby blues. With PPD, a mother’s mood may be sad, irritable, anxious, angry, or filled with rage.

Another key difference is symptom duration and onset. The baby blues does not last longer than 2-3 weeks and occurs shortly after childbirth. The duration of PPD is a minimum of 2 weeks and it can occur at any time during the first year postpartum. For example, onset can occur right after birth, at 4 months, at 10 months, etc. In addition, moms may experience multiple depressive episodes (especially when PPD is left untreated) with some return to normalcy in between episodes. Unfortunately, with every episode that is experienced, the depressive episodes tend to worsen, which is why early intervention is emphasized and why a mother who believes she may be struggling with PPD should not delay treatment. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a form of depression that affects approximately 15% to 20% of women after they give birth (1, 2, 3, & 5). If left untreated, symptoms tend to extend beyond the first postpartum year. Often, symptoms are observed between 4-6 weeks postpartum, and can range in intensity from mild, moderate, to severe.

Another difference between the two is that the baby blues tends to resolve on its own, but PPD, depending on its severity, generally requires treatment and careful monitoring by a licensed professional. Usually, PPD does not simply resolve without additional support or treatment.

Below is a quick break down and comparison of the baby blues and postpartum depression.

Some symptoms of the baby blues may include the following:
  • Mood swings - happiness, sadness, frustration, anxiousness, weepiness

  • Fatigue

  • Impatience

  • Predominant mood is happy

  • Generally attributed to the fluctuations in hormones after birth

  • Resolves on its own while implementing coping skills

  • Impacts approximately 80% of moms

  • Symptoms begin shortly after childbirth and remit within 2-3 weeks (symptoms do not reappear at a later time)

Some symptoms of postpartum depression may include the following:
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

  • Ongoing feelings of guilt, inadequacy, hopelessness

  • Mood is primarily unhappy or sad, anxious, angry, or irritable

  • May struggle to care for self or infant/family

  • Intrusive/scary thoughts (learn more about them here)

  • Impacts approximately 15% - 20% of moms

  • Symptom duration is a minimum of 2 weeks at a time (moms may experience multiple depressive episodes with some normalcy in between episodes)

  • Symptom onset can occur anytime during the first postpartum year

At a Glance: Things You can do to Feel Better

Now that you have a better understanding of the baby blues and PPD, you might be wondering what you can do to feel better. I’ve outlined a few things, but this is not an exhaustive list. You may find a few of these things helpful.

  • Give yourself permission to rest as much as you can, when you can.

  • Accept help if it is offered.

  • Try to get out of the house and do something for yourself, even if it is just for a short period of time.

  • Join a local support group in your community

  • Talk about your feelings with your partner or supportive family members and friends.

  • If possible, try not to make major life changes after giving birth as this may cause added stress.

  • Consider individual therapy or other treatment options.

  • Consider the use of aromatherapy. For example, you can diffuse essential oils such as lavender or rose petal that promote relaxation.

  • Monitor your social media use and set boundaries around the things that trigger or provoke your anxiety.

  • Make self-care a part of your routine (a little goes a long way).

  • Listen to music that helps you feel relaxed or energized, or put together a calming playlist that you can easily access.

If you’re concerned that you may be struggling with postpartum depression, prompt treatment can help you. Please don’t delay. I see moms delay treatment in hopes that they will improve with time but they only find their symptoms worsening. Individual therapy is an effective and evidence-based intervention for treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. If you’re struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety, contact me for sessions to get started with individual therapy.

If you’re not quite ready, you can learn more about depression and anxiety during the perinatal period in my workbook Visible Motherhood, alongside some practical tools, tips, and strategies that you can implement today to start feeling better. The workbook also includes extensive postpartum depression and anxiety symptom checklists so that you can better determine what may be going on and seek help if needed.

Mama, you are not alone, and you can get better. While there may be a few similarities between postpartum blues and postpartum depression, there are also some vast differences between them. One of the biggest differences is that a mother’s mood is generally happy even if she is struggling with the baby blues. With PPD, a mother’s mood may be sad, irritable, anxious, angry, or filled with rage.

All the best, Dr. Pickering


*This blog post was originally written by Dr. Alice Pickering on dralicepsyd.com and has been cross posted.

References:

  1. Abramowitz, J. S., Meltzer-Brody, S., Leserman, J., Killenberg, S., Rinaldi, K., Mahaffey, B. L., & Pedersen, C. (2010). Obsessional thoughts and compulsive behaviors in a sample of women with postpartum mood symptoms. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 13(6), 523-530. doi: 10.1007/s00737-010-0172-4

  2. Fairbrother, N., & Woody, S. R. (2008). New mothers’ thoughts of harm related to the newborn. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 11(3), 221-229. doi: 10.1007/s00737-008-0016-7

  3. Horowitz, J. A., & Goodman, J. H. (2005). Identifying and treating postpartum depression. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 34(2), 264-273.

  4. Letourneau, N. L., Dennis, C. L., Benzies, K., Duffett-Leger, L., Stewart, M., Tryphonopoulos, P. D., ... & Watson, W. (2012). Postpartum depression is a family affair: Addressing the impact on mothers, fathers, and children. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 33(7), 445-457.

  5. Postpartum Support International - PSI. (2021, September 29). https://www.postpartum. net/

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