Are you experiencing baby blues or postpartum depression? Here’s how to tell the difference and cope with depression after your baby is born.

After you give birth, when the placenta is delivered, the levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones in your body drastically decrease. This may lead to mood changes, increased anxiety, or both.

These feelings are natural — you are not at fault for the sudden changes in how your body is reacting during this time. It’s important to understand the symptoms you are experiencing to determine whether they are caused by baby blues or postpartum depression.

You are not alone. Treatment options are available to help you cope with the physiological changes you are facing postpartum.

Baby blues are feelings of worry, anger, or fear that up to 80% of birthing people experience, often 2 to 3 days after childbirth. These feelings usually go away on their own without treatment after a few days to 1 to 2 weeks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Various factors contribute to baby blues, such as:

  • adjusting to a new sleep pattern after bringing your baby home
  • difficulties with breastfeeding
  • decreased hormone levels

If you notice that you are still experiencing overwhelming feelings beyond 2 weeks and they are distracting you from your day-to-day tasks, consider contacting your healthcare team to discuss postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mental health condition associated with intense feelings of sadness, guilt, anger, or despair that can last for several months or sometimes years, per the National Institutes of Health. About 1 in 8 people who have given birth are affected.

A combination of factors causes PPD, such as hormonal changes during and after pregnancy, sleep deprivation, the many changes that come with childbirth, and more.

PPD is a diagnosable mental health condition described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

In order to get a diagnosis, your primary care doctor or a mental health professional will ask questions about how you feel and rule out other possible causes for why you are experiencing symptoms that might be similar to PPD.

Baby blues and PPD share similar symptoms like sadness, irritability, trouble concentrating, and anger.

But it’s important to note that symptoms for PPD are more severe. Also, unlike the baby blues, feelings associated with PPD last longer than 2 weeks after giving birth.

Postpartum symptoms

Take the time to observe how you feel throughout the day and remain aware of any triggers that may heighten your symptoms, such as decreased sleep and lack of social supports. Signs and symptoms of PPD include:

  • depressed mood
  • frequent crying
  • feelings of guilt
  • changes in sleep, insomnia, or sleeping too much
  • difficulty focusing
  • feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness
  • irrational concern about baby’s well-being
  • fear of being left alone with baby
  • nightmares
  • trouble bonding with baby
  • thoughts of hurting oneself or baby

Treatment

If you believe you have PPD, consider reaching out to a medical or mental health professional so they can assess your symptoms and recommend treatment, if needed. PPD is highly treatable.

Below are treatment options available to help you manage caring for yourself and your baby.

Medication

Antidepressants are usually prescribed to treat depression and are typically safe for individuals who are breastfeeding. Please discuss your options with a medical professional to make sure the medication you take is safe for you and your baby.

It can take antidepressants 6 to 8 weeks to work. If you want to stop taking your medication, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional first.

Psychotherapy

Evidence-based therapy approaches, like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT), can be used to treat depression and anxiety.

Your therapist might:

  • help you make connections between life events and the impact they have on mood
  • challenge unhelpful behavior patterns
  • support you in building skills to improve communication and increase sources of social support

Hospitalization

It’s important to consider hospitalization if you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. This is something that should be discussed with your mental health professional.

If you need help, contact a medical or mental health professional or call 911.

Hospitalization might be required if you experience postpartum psychosis, as it is considered a more serious mental health condition often requiring a higher level of care. Unlike PPD, postpartum psychosis can cause you to have one or more psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions.

In addition to the treatment options recommended by your healthcare professional, you can try the following tips to alleviate your symptoms.

Take care of your body

Following childbirth, it’s possible that you will feel less connected to yourself and how you care for your body. Some practices that you may find helpful include:

  • Eating healthy foods. Nutritious food such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are essential to support your baby’s development and your well-being.
  • Getting active. Consistent movement can help release dopamine and serotonin to boost your mood. Consider going for a walk or spending at least 20 minutes participating in an exercise routine you enjoy.
  • Meditation. Start by spending 5 to 10 minutes in meditation to focus on your breathing and observe your thoughts and feelings. Meditation can help you better advocate for yourself, decrease stress, improve sleep, and more.

Bonding time with baby

If you are facing challenges connecting with your baby, consider doing some activities with them to work to develop a secure attachment. Here are some exercises that can help you and your baby relax and bond together:

  • Keeping a routine. Especially for the first few months, it can help to keep a regular, predictable routine for eating, sleeping, and play time. This helps keep both parent and baby regulated.
  • Show affection. When you’re interacting with your baby, you can comfort and soothe them by using smiles, touch, and affection.
  • Quality time. Spending quiet time together can reinforce your bond. This could include taking a walk outside together or reading to your baby.
  • Group activities. Going to group activities with your baby and other parents and caregivers, like music classes, can help you feel connected and supported.
  • Breath work. Find a comfortable position with your child in your lap or on your chest. Take a deep breath through your nose, focusing on sending your breath to your stomach, and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this cycle at least 10 to 15 times.
  • Postpartum yoga. You can join local or online classes to participate in low intensity stretches and exercises that are modified for you and your baby. Be patient with yourself as you resume physical activity, and take time to pause as needed to prevent stress on your body.

Read more tips about creating a secure attachment here.

Communicate honestly

It takes a village to raise a child. So it is important to remain open and honest with any feelings or thoughts you notice postpartum — you don’t have to battle this season alone.

The sooner that you can express how you are feeling, the sooner you can begin to cope with and manage the challenges of PPD. Social support from others can drastically improve symptoms of PPD. There’s no reason to feel ashamed for asking for help.

To communicate with others to get support, you may want to:

  • Reach out to loved ones and people you feel safe confiding in when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Join support groups for new parents near you or online.
  • Keep a journal to keep record of your thoughts throughout the day.
  • Work with a mental health professional or postpartum doula to guide you during this time of transition.

Understanding the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression can help you manage any symptoms you may be experiencing and get you the most appropriate treatment and support.

Speak with your healthcare professional to clarify any support you might need. A medical or mental health professional will determine the treatment options that best address your needs, as every postpartum experience is unique.

Caring for a newborn can be difficult, and feeling like you can manage the stress that comes with childbirth is possible.

Try to remain mindful of your thoughts and feelings so that you can better communicate with family, friends, and healthcare professionals to have your needs met.