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The Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression Symptoms: How to Tell the difference

Updated on October 13, 2012

When most women get pregnant, they imagine the birth of their child as filled with joy and exhilaration. Conception is supposed to flip a maternal switch, sending even the maternally challenged into a tailspin of baby planning and nesting. Giving birth is supposed to spring us into action and suddenly impart each of us with the knowledge of exactly what our little one needs at any given time. A woman’s maternal instinct is supposed to be somehow rooted in her DNA. So what happens if that maternal drive doesn’t kick in? What happens if you feel nothing but exhaustion, irritability, disappointment, or anxiety? What if the baby cries and you just don’t know what to do? It can all be very overwhelming and, furthermore, it goes against the very definition of what society tells us a new mother is supposed to feel and be.

You may be surprised to hear that some 58 percent of new mothers suffer from a condition called postpartum depression. In its mildest form, this condition is known as the baby blues. Symptoms can include depression, irritability, confusion, anxiety, crying spells, lack of appetite, and sleep disturbances. Mild postpartum depression lasts anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. More severe forms of postpartum depression may include all the symptoms of the baby blues as well as feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thought, thought of infanticide, and panic. These symptoms can last for weeks or even months.

Baby Blues
Postpartum Depression
Mood Fluctuations
Exhaustion, problem sleeping
Sadness, anxiety
Appetite disturbances
Crying Spells
Mood disturbances
Feelings of inadequacy
Irritability, frustration
Persistent sadness
Irritability, anger
Scary thoughts
Loss of pleasure
Inability to concentrate
Feelings of hopelessness
Excessive anxiety

The symptoms associated with the baby blues and those associated with postpartum depression can overlap greatly. This makes distinguishing between the two very difficult. It’s hard to know how much sadness is too sad and how much anxiety makes it excessive. It is the frequency, intensity, and duration in combination that really set postpartum depression apart from simple baby blues.

New mothers are often tired, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived. Having a new baby at home does not always go as expected. Add in the fluctuation hormones that are still not quite settled and it’s a wonder any of us ever get through the infant stage. Having an occasional moment of dissatisfaction or even a mini mommy meltdown is not unusual. It is when the crying and overwhelmed feelings begin to affect your ability to get through the day that raises concern.

Ultimately, you are the only one that can truly gage your level of distress. Trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, it probably is. Be aware of yourself and how you are feeling. Remember, the baby blues lasts the first few days postpartum. This condition quickly resolves once hormonal changes finally settle. It typically does not require treatment. If your feelings of anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and/or sadness last longer than a few weeks, however, it is time to consider the possibility of postpartum depression.


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