Apr 8, 2022 • 4 min read

Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues: How to Tell The Difference

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Becoming a new mom is an exciting, joyous, and overwhelming occasion all at once. The transition to parenthood is often challenging and can include unexpected periods of stress, anxiety, isolation, and mood changes.

While these feelings can be scary, you’re not alone. In fact, the majority of women experience symptoms related to the baby blues after childbirth.

Whether you are prenatal, pregnant, or postpartum, prioritizing your mental health is always a good idea and too often goes overlooked, says Anya Levendosky, LCSW a mental health therapist and Network Growth Manager at Zaya Care.

Maintaining a healthy mindset and supporting your emotional needs throughout your maternity journey is critical for you and the wellbeing of your baby. 

To prepare for all the changes that come with a newborn, here is what you need to know about postpartum mental health, the signs and symptoms to look out for, and when and how to seek help.

What are the baby blues?

The baby blues is a mild form of depression that usually occurs within the first three days after having a baby and can last for up to two weeks before going away on its own. Still, the baby blues should be taken seriously. 

Symptoms of the baby blues make you feel as if a cloud is overhead: You may worry, feel unhappy, anxious, or overwhelmed, and are darn exhausted, too. This is normal given what your body has just gone through as you enter this new stage of life as a parent.

“It’s important to know that the baby blues impact the majority of women who have just given birth. Statistics show that around 80% of postpartum women experience the baby blues,” says Levendosky. 

What is postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is defined as mood changes that last longer than two weeks after having a baby. About one in eight women in the U.S. experience symptoms of postpartum depression, which include frequent crying, anger, withdrawal, and guilt. Postpartum depression usually peaks at around 2 to 4 weeks after delivery, but some new parents may experience symptoms for a year or longer.

In addition, you may also have postpartum anxiety, which shares many of the same symptoms as postpartum depression, though not all moms who have anxiety are also depressed.

Postpartum depression signs and symptoms

Becoming a new parent or adding more kids into the fold can be overwhelming and change family dynamics.

For women who have postpartum depression, Levendosky says they may experience:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Lack of desire to be around your baby or feeling unconnected to your baby
  • Concern that because your baby is crying, they don’t like you
  • Issues with sleeping and appetite
  • Irritability that doesn’t go away or turns into anger (read more about postpartum rage here)
  • Sense of imminent and impending doom
  • A loss of interest in doing things you enjoyed or seeing loved ones
  • Persistently sad, anxious, or empty
  • Guilty, worthless, hopeless, or helpless
  • Increased headaches and digestive woes

The difference between postpartum depression vs. baby blues

While postpartum depression may be mistaken for the baby blues initially, there are important differences between the two.

The baby blues, which sets in quickly after birth (usually within 2 or 3 days), typically lasts no longer than two weeks. Postpartum depression, however, lasts longer and the symptoms are more severe. 

If you have feelings of sadness that last longer than two weeks postpartum–or persistent symptoms that won’t go away on their own–you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

When to seek help for postpartum depression 

A lot of new moms wait until they experience the baby blues or signs of postpartum depression before connecting with a professional. 

Honoring your own needs will help your baby—and the rest of your family—too. “Some women think that they have to wait until they experience the worst possible symptoms of PPD to connect with a therapist. There is this focus on your baby, but your own health is important, too,” says Levendosky. 

If you have signs or symptoms related to your postpartum mental health—or have a history of depression or anxiety—talk to a licensed postpartum depression therapist right away.

Through postpartum depression therapy, you can develop a personalized care plan that supports you, your needs, and your mental health goals.

Postpartum depression treatment

Like other types of depression, postpartum depression is manageable and is typically treated through therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

To start, Levendosky suggests finding a therapist who specializes in postpartum maternal health. This ensures your provider has experience treating new and expecting parents like yourself in navigating these important life changes.

During your sessions, you will have the space to process what you’re going through, learn coping mechanisms and skills, and explore additional therapies.

For those still trying to conceive or are pregnant, Levendosky recommends being proactive and creating a postpartum mental health plan, similar to how one may have a birthing plan.

By starting therapy before your baby arrives, it allows time for your therapeutic alliance and trust to build with a therapist you feel comfortable talking to and sharing with.

Lastly, don’t forget it’s never too late to ask for help. Postpartum depression can crop up within the first year of birth, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support—no matter where you are in your journey. “The goal is to help you get joy out of being a mom,” says Levendosky.   

>> Read more: Options for treating postpartum anxiety

Final thoughts

Becoming a new parent—while one of the most rewarding and joyous times in one’s life—can also be very difficult.

While the majority of women experience the baby blues or postpartum depression or anxiety, you may still feel alone in your emotions and ashamed of those feelings.

“Becoming a mom is very much learn-as-you-go, and that can feel really overwhelming. It’s important to give yourself the opportunity to feel supported and not think that you have to do it all alone,” says Levendosky.

Talk therapy, medications, support groups, and lifestyle changes are all options available to help. 

The sooner you get help, the sooner you can get back to feeling like yourself—and enjoying the pregnancy and postpartum period as it was intended to be.

If you are looking for help with postpartum depression or the baby blues, find and book a therapist who specializes in maternal health and accepts your insurance on Zaya Care.