Let’s Talk! What is the Difference Between Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues?

postpartum and baby blues

There are so many changes when you welcome a new baby to your family and home. There are household adjustments that are made. There are new routines. There are new questions. There are so many hormonal changes. I am sure that I am not alone in navigating a moment in time where I was not sure if I was experiencing “baby blues” or postpartum depression requiring more help.

I am always so thankful that we are navigating motherhood in a time of more openness surrounding this topic and where we know that it is normal to have a whole wide range of experiences and emotions. My sister beat me to motherhood by just six years but suffered through months of postpartum depression in silence due to a lack of access to information and community. The topic was so under-covered and undiscussed well within the timeline of parenthood of many mothers reading this now.

Having a platform to move conversations forward and share information with our community opened a door for us to talk with an expert about when and how to get help.

Dr. Karen Hulbert, a family medicine physician from ThedaCare-Markesan answers some questions about when it is time to seek help for postpartum depression.

How common is depression after the birth of a baby? 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that one out of 10 women in the United States reported symptoms of major depression in the last year. That study estimates that the number of women affected by postpartum depression differ by age, race, and ethnicity. In addition, postpartum depression estimates vary by state, and can be as high as one in five women.

What is the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression? 

There are several ways to know if you or a loved one is experiencing postpartum blues (“baby blues”) or is developing postpartum depression. Baby blues are milder, peak in a couple days and are typically resolved by two weeks. The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and interfere with daily life. A typical symptom of major depression is that it causes significant distress or prevents you from functioning how you want to with your baby, your partner or maybe even your family.

“It can be difficult to identify it when you’re in the middle of it. Big changes are taking place – hormone levels vary, there is additional stress, lack of sleep and learning how to be a parent – it’s a lot. We want women, and their partners, to feel empowered to seek help. It takes strength to recognize there could be an issue, and ask for guidance. We want to be that resource for mothers and families.”

Postpartum DepressionBaby Blues
Feeling sad or hopelessFatigue
Feeling withdrawn or disconnectedDecrease in concentration
Feelings of guilt or angerLoss of appetite
Worrying and anxiety about the health of the babySadness
Concern about one’s ability to care for their baby
Lack of response to support & reassurance

When is it time to seek help? 

When you begin to have these feelings or experiences, or if you’re questioning yourself, then it’s time to seek help. Women with baby blues can have up to an 11 times higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is also different because it can start during pregnancy, and it can also occur anytime during the first year of the baby’s life.     

“I continue screening people for depression through the whole first year of the baby’s life because I know it can sneak up on people sometimes. Our care teams can work through this with families, provide an action plan, and begin the healing process.”

What are some things that we can do after when we think we need more help? 

Communicating how you’re feeling with your doctor so they can properly monitor your symptoms. There are several treatment options and care plans. Here are some recommendations:  

  • Sleep as much as you can, and rest when your baby is napping.
  • Eat foods that are good for you.
  • Go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air, and sunshine can do wonders.
  • Accept help when people offer it.
  • Relax. Don’t worry about chores. Just focus on you and your baby.

Some mothers respond really well to therapy or counseling. Others need medication, and that is okay. Whether you’re breastfeeding or not breastfeeding, there are treatment options, we will work through this with you.

What else is good to know? 

Another CDC study found that about four percent of fathers experience depression in the first year after their child’s birth. 

I screen dads and partners too. I like to make sure that during an appointment both parents are aware of symptoms to watch for because they may not recognize the signs in themselves or their partner. It’s when they go home and see these things happening in everyday life that might spark a conversation. While these conversations may be difficult, it is best to be open and honest to get help.

“I want all parents to remember, give yourself some grace. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent — or a perfect baby. Just do the best you can, and remember to take care of yourself so you can be the best parent to your little one.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.


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