As a perinatal therapist, I help women navigate the challenges of motherhood starting as early as the first positive test. What I have learned throughout this work, is there are many misconceptions about motherhood, including the experience of postpartum depression. These false beliefs can be harmful to women because it fuels the worries they may already have about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
Our society doesn’t always educate us enough, as new moms, about the reality of what our experience might look like in the postpartum period. Unfortunately, there is no “What To Expect When You’re Expecting: Mood Edition” and there really should be. Providing moms with real facts to support the expectations of postpartum beforehand, could result in less women suffering in silence, alone, feeling like they are broken. So, let’s set the record straight!
Postpartum depression versus the “baby blues”
- The “baby blues” is a very common experience for most moms.
- About 70-80% of women will experience the baby blues (Carberg, 2019).
- According to Postpartum Support International, 1 in 7 women go on to experience postpartum depression but experiencing the baby blues does not mean you will definitely struggle with ongoing postpartum depression.
There are some specific indicators that can help you decipher the difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression. It’s important that you understand the differences so not only so you know what to expect, but so you can get the support you need sooner.
Baby Blues or Something More?
It can be hard to distinguish whether what you are feeling is the typical “baby blues” most moms experience after the birth of a baby, or if symptoms may be due to something more, like postpartum depression or anxiety. Particularly, if you are a first-time mom, this can be a challenge as so much of your experience is new and unknown to you.
While symptoms of baby blues can overlap with PPD, they typically:
- Are generally less severe
- Are shorter in duration
- Do not interfere with daily activities
- Do not impair maternal functioning
Symptoms generally peak within the first few days post-delivery and generally resolve without treatment within 2 weeks. Estimated to affect up to 80% of women after childbirth.
• Frequent crying
• Mood swings
Postpartum Mood Disorder
Expert opinions vary as to the timing of the onset of PPD. For example, symptoms of PPD may begin: During pregnancy or following childbirth up to 12 months. Without treatment, symptoms may persist for months or up to a year
• Feeling sad, hopeless, empty, or overwhelmed
• Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
• Worrying or feeling overly anxious
• Insomnia or hypersomnia
• Physical aches and pains
• Changes in appetite
• Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
• Experiencing anger or rage
• Trouble concentrating
• Losing interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
• Withdrawing from friends and family
• Trouble bonding with her baby
• Persistently doubting her ability to care for her baby
• Thoughts of harming herself or her baby
• Anxiety in the form of intrusive or obsessive thoughts about the baby
How to tell the difference
It can feel very confusing, particularly because the symptoms can overlap and often be similar. Ideally, you would be assessed by your healthcare provider and supported through exploring your options for treatment. Many women struggle with reaching out for help because of the shame and stigma attached to having difficulties postpartum. This comes from the lack of discussion in our society about postpartum mood disorders and the only way to break the stigma and extinguish shame is by talking about it.
In an ideal world, every woman would have a team of support throughout pregnancy and postpartum that is beyond just our medical providers: doulas, therapists, support groups, all of which you can learn more about and find resources for right here on this site. These support systems are all immensely helpful forms of support that women may need so they don’t have to experience this alone.
The best thing we as a society can do for you, other expecting and postpartum moms and, future generations, is to continue educating and providing families with the knowledge to understand their experience and advocate for their needs. Postpartum Support International, an international organization dedicated to the education and treatment of women and families around perinatal mood disorders says it best: You are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.
Postpartum During A Global Pandemic
If you were pregnant or gave birth during COVID, your experience has likely been more challenging in new and different ways. As we navigate the global pandemic, pregnant women and moms of new babies are facing more uncertainty and isolation than postpartum moms in previous times. As we near the end of the year, a time traditionally about reflection and setting new intentions, I encourage you to reflect on all that you’ve done during this time-the incredible things you have accomplished as a postpartum mom despite the obstacles 2020 has thrown at you. Give yourself compassion, increase your self-care the best you can, and give yourself grace during this time. Whether you are a new postpartum mom, currently pregnant and expecting or a veteran mom in postpartum, know that you are never truly alone!
About Samantha Nilsson