Your Pregnancy Matters
5 tips to help manage the baby blues – and when to seek help
March 10, 2020
Many women imagine that the first days and weeks with their new baby will be a blissful, serene and resolutely joyous time. The reality can be very different.
You might rejoice in the smell of their hair and tiny fingers and toes, but you also may find yourself weepy and overwhelmed. Sleep deprivation, isolation, and the stress of keeping a tiny human alive can collide with a sudden change in hormones after giving birth. The combination can make you feel as if you’re on an emotional roller coaster.
These symptoms are known as the postpartum blues, or baby blues, and can last up to two weeks after giving birth. An estimated three in four new moms will experience some postpartum blues symptoms, with some estimates indicating the number as high as up to 80%. I was one of them.
These feelings are normal. No matter how much you love your baby, it’s OK to feel weepy and overwhelmed at times.
Still, we can’t ignore the baby blues. Having postpartum blues is a significant risk factor for developing postpartum depression, which is more severe and persistent. Furthermore, we suspect that, while transient, these mood changes may affect women’s experience after delivery, including their breastfeeding efforts, bonding and overall quality of life. Since there is little research available about the impact of these changes, we are currently conducting research at UT Southwestern to better characterize how postpartum mood alterations affect new moms.
When it comes to the baby blues, it’s important to make sure the symptoms aren’t dragging on or becoming worse.
Related reading: “Baby blues” or postpartum depression?
Common symptoms of postpartum blues
Symptoms can start within the first hours or days of giving birth to your baby. You may:
- Feel sad
- Cry a lot
- Experience mood swings
- Have trouble sleeping
- Feel overwhelmed
- Feel like an inadequate parent
- Worry you’re not bonding with your baby
These symptoms are normal and should taper off in a couple weeks as your hormone levels stabilize and you begin to establish a routine. But symptoms might be totally unexpected, especially if you pregnancy was easy or you were looking forward to the joy of motherhood. If symptoms don’t go away, or if they get worse, talk with your doctor. You may be experiencing postpartum depression.
Tips to help manage the baby blues
There are few things you can do to lessen or manage the symptoms of the postpartum blues.
Know what to expect: While you’re pregnant, talk to your mom or friends who have had children about their experiences after giving birth. Ask your doctor questions. Knowledge is power, and being prepared can help. Make a list of things that calm you down or make you happy, such as a hot bath or going for a walk. That way, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or sad, you can refer back to that list.
Get enough sleep: You can’t stop your baby from waking up at all hours of the night, but you can limit the amount off caffeine you ingest, switch off your electronic devices an hour before you go to bed, and let your partner bottle feed once in a while so you can sleep through the night.
Get out of the house: Having a new baby can feel isolating. Meet up with friends for coffee. Talk to them about what you are feeling. Connect with other new moms. There can be strength in numbers. And don’t forget to enjoy the fresh air – you’ll find it may also help you sleep better!
Don’t expect too much: You might feel tempted to compare yourself to all those “perfect” moms you see on TV and social media. Don’t give in to that pressure. Give yourself time to heal from childbirth and adjust to your new parenting role.
Ask for help: Tell your partner, family, or friends exactly what they can do for you. This could be taking care of your little one while you shower or go to the store, or making a few meals so you can enjoy uninterrupted time with your newborn.
Related reading: 'We will hear you': The power of patient stories in pregnancy care
When to seek help
Up to 15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression, a debilitating condition that can take a toll on you and your family if not treated properly.
At the beginning, postpartum depression and the baby blues share many of the same symptoms, such as mood swings, crying, and insomnia. The difference is postpartum depression symptoms persist beyond the normal baby blues and they also are more severe.
Watch for these red flags of postpartum depression:
- Extreme sadness and excessive crying
- Intense irritability or anger
- Severe anxiety
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Unable to concentrate or make decisions
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Reduced interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness
Postpartum depression is a serious problem that should not be ignored. If you feel scared or out of control, tell your provider. If you’re worried about hurting yourself or your baby, call 911.
Postpartum blues and postpartum depression are not your fault and are not signs of weakness. They are complications of giving birth, and we are here to help.