Q: How do I know if it’s just the baby blues, or if I have postpartum depression?
A: It can be difficult to differentiate the “baby blues” from postpartum depression.
I can give you some information below, but you really must meet with a mental health professional to be evaluated to determine if you have postpartum depression. If you feel you or your child might be in danger, contact emergency services right away. With that in mind, here is some info…
Both the “baby blues” and postpartum depression are common. Studies show that 50-75% of new mothers experience the “baby blues” and up for 15% of those women will develop a more severe postpartum depression.
Differentiating the blues from depression is about:
(A) the severity of your symptoms.
(B) how long you’ve been experiencing them.
The Baby Blues
The baby blues is a period of 2 weeks or less, just before or following childbirth, where the mother may experience mood swings, anxiety, sadness, grief, low energy, difficulty concentrating and/or increased irritability.
Make no mistake, these feelings can be intense!
The baby blues is likely related to the drastic change in hormones just before or following childbirth, changes in sleep (often drastic), the stress or trauma of the childbirth process, and the overall major transition of having a new family member to care for.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) indicates that a diagnosis of postpartum depression (the technical term is major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, but for clarity purposes we will refer to it as postpartum depression) can be made when a woman has 5 or more of the symptoms listed below.
These symptoms must have occurred for at least 2 weeks and the onset of the symptoms will have been during pregnancy or within 4 weeks following delivery.
- Depressed mood, most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness) or observation from others (e.g., appears tearful). Note: In children and adolescents, this can be irritable mood.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities throughout the day, nearly every day, as indicated by subjective or objective account.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of his or her body weight in a month, or a decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day). Note: In children, consider failure to make expected weight gain.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia, nearly every day.
- Psychomotor agitation nearly every day. This is observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive/inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions nearly every day as self-reported or observed objectively.
- Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation about a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
Truly, the only way to be sure of what’s going on is to meet with a medical or mental health professional. There are treatments available to help with postpartum depression.
Lastly, here’s an article on coping with postpartum depression: