You may have heard about the ‘baby blues’, the emotional let-down that many moms experience in the first few weeks after the birth of the baby. Postpartum depression, however, is a little more serious and unlike the baby blues will usually not go away on its own. Read on to find out more about this common complication in pregnancy.

The Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression: Which is Which?

For some people, it can seem difficult to tell whether a woman is experiencing a case of the baby blues or if she really is sinking into an episode of partum depression. While some of the signs and symptoms are similar, there are some important differences, too.

Women with the baby blues can have any of the follow signs and symptoms:

  • Crying fits or feeling more emotional than usual
  • Mood swings; for example, going from happy to sad without any particular reason for it
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Difficulty getting to sleep

These symptoms can last for up to 2 weeks after the birth of the baby.

Women with postpartum depression can have more severe symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks. These can include:

  • Consistently depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • A sudden increase or sudden decrease in appetite
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Difficulty bonding with the new baby
  • Feelings of fear, worthlessness, shame or guilt
  • Worry about not being a good parent
  • Feeling really tired all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or problems remembering things
  • Panic attacks

In other words, while some of the symptoms are similar between the two issues, symptoms of postpartum depression are more severe and longer-lasting and will not go away on their own.

What Causes Postpartum Depression?

Doctors are not actually sure why some women get postpartum depression and others do not. Many think, however, that it might be caused by the drop in a woman’s hormones after the birth of the baby or by the stress of taking care of a newborn (if you haven’t figured it out yet, babies are a LOT of work!).

Who is at Risk for Postpartum Depression?

In theory, any new mom can get postpartum depression — but some moms are at a higher risk.  It is easier to get this condition if a woman:

  • Has had depression problems in the past
  • Has had postpartum depression with other pregnancies
  • Has a high level of stress already (such as an illness, loss of job or money troubles)
  • Had complications with the pregnancy
  • Has a baby with special needs (such as a baby with Down syndrome)

Are There Complications from Postpartum Depression?

If postpartum depression is not treated, there can be problems for both mom and baby. Babies are at a higher risk for emotional problems later in life, difficulty eating and sleeping, developmental delays and even for neurological disorders like ADHD. Moms can be at higher risk for chronic depression problems even once the baby gets older.

How is Postpartum Depression Diagnosed and Treated?

To begin with, because there are risks for complications from this disorder, it is really important for a woman to see her doctor if she thinks she has postpartum depression. The doctor will ask about her signs and symptoms and have her fill out a questionnaire to help get all the facts. Sometimes, a doctor will also do blood work if he or she suspects that the problem might be do to something like low levels of thyroid hormones.  Once the doctor gets all the information, a diagnosis can be made.

If it is a case of baby blues, the doctor will usually recommend:

  • Getting as much rest as possible
  • Joining a support group of new moms to have others to talk to who are facing the same challenges

If it is a case of postpartum depression, treatment will often include;

  • Therapy with a professional counselor or psychologist
  • Antidepressants, which are medications that can help with symptoms of depression
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Finding ways to manage stress — like yoga or meditation
  • Asking for help with childcare from family members/friends

With treatment, the good news is that it is possible to help relieve the symptoms of postpartum depression and get a woman back on track emotionally.

Can Postpartum Depression be Prevented?

There are ways that a pregnant woman can reduce her risk of postpartum depression. If she has had this problem in the past, then even during the pregnancy she should check in regularly with her doctor and report any feelings of depression she might already be having. In some cases, a doctor might recommend an antidepressant even before the baby is born to help prevent this problem from getting worse after the birth.  It is also a good idea for women to check in with their doctors in the week or so after birth and be assessed to see how well they are handling the transition of having a new baby.

In short, postpartum depression can sound kind of scary. However, the good news is that with treatment, this challenge can be overcome — and if it is just the baby blues, the problem will go away on its own as a woman adjusts to life after the birth of the baby.