Being a new mom is a joyful and wonderful time in life. But what if you're also feeling anxious, tearful, and depressed? You've probably heard the term "baby blues" or of postpartum depression, but maybe you aren't sure how they differ from each other or from depression, and when to do something about them. The main difference between baby blues and postpartum depression is in the severity and duration. The only difference between postpartum depression and depression is the timing and trigger. Learn more in this Q&A.
New mom, new emotions
May 5, 2017, at 12:55 a.m. This was my moment that changed everything; the exact minute my daughter was born. It was also the exact minute that my life turned in so many directions that I didn’t know what was going on. The whole time I was pregnant I was thinking about when the baby would come. I wondered, “What day will she come?”, “Where will I be when she decides to make her entrance?”, “Will my water break?”, And most of all, “Will I be ready?”. I remember having a lot of anxiety leading up to the birth of my daughter. Sometimes this anxiety made me laugh, but most of the time it made me cry. The moment my daughter was born, everything changed. The “Will I be ready?” anxiety turned into, “I am NOT ready” anxiety, which lead to even more anxiety about the baby and how I would ever adjust to my new life. Fast forward three days later and we were home with a brand new baby. I remember sitting in the hospital lobby, waiting on our ride to pick us up, and bursting into tears. I thought, "This is it…They’re letting us take this thing home with us and we have to be responsible for her. What?? How is that going to work?"
Being at home wasn’t too bad. I learned how to survive on no sleep. I learned all about my baby and how to care for her, but I lost any concept of how to take care of myself. I had this flood of emotions all the time. I didn’t know if it was the “baby blues”, postpartum depression, hormones, depression, anxiety, or something else. I would literally sit in my living room holding my crying baby while crying myself. I went to a follow-up appointment with my OBGYN and we decided that I needed some medication. I was suffering from the baby blues. Over time, I could eventually stop taking this medication, but it was exactly what I needed to help me transition into my new world. The medication helped tremendously with the anxiety and the fearfulness I was feeling as a new mother.
After going through this experience, I wanted to know more about the differences between all of the forms of anxiety following the birth of child, and answers on depression, baby blues, and postpartum depression, so I spoke with Lana Lange, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Q&A with Lana Lange, MD
What’s the difference between postpartum depression, baby blues, and depression?
Dr. Lange: The difference between postpartum depression and the baby blues is in the severity of the disease and how long it lasts. With the baby blues, you have times of tearfulness, anxiety, moodiness, and feelings of isolation, but are still able to function well and are still able to enjoy your baby, as well as family and friends at times. The symptoms usually start within a week of delivery and tend to resolve within a few weeks. This does not usually require medication or therapy, but can be helped by support, exercise, making time for yourself, and talking to a trusted family member or friend.
Postpartum depression is more severe and can significantly impact your life, your ability to bond with your child, your health, and even other relationships. It does not resolve on its own and usually requires more intense treatment. There is no difference between depression and postpartum depression other than the trigger and timing of the disease. They are both similar brain chemistry imbalances, they just appear at different times in your life.
A lot of moms, especially new moms, suffer from anxiety because motherhood is so overwhelming. How do you know the difference between “new mom anxiety” and postpartum depression?
Depression often has a component of anxiety so it can be tough to know the difference. Again, it goes back to severity. If your anxiety seems to be dictating your life with your new baby, you need to discuss it with your PCP or OBGYN. I also often have family members encourage new moms to seek help. When in doubt, discuss it with your doctor or a trusted friend or family member.
When does postpartum depression kick in and how long does it last?
The timeline for postpartum depression is not definitive and can depend on which source you are using to reference. In general, it is depression that occurs “within the peripartum setting”. This means its onset is around the time of birth to six weeks postpartum. However, the postpartum period is defined as up to 12-months postpartum and symptoms can be present at any time during this period.
What are some of the risk factors that go along with postpartum depression?
Risk factors include - any psychiatric disorders prior to pregnancy, significant social stressors surrounding pregnancy and birth (i.e. significant illness, death in the family, complicated pregnancy, etc.), and lack of support in caring for the baby. There are also some socioeconomic groups that display symptoms of postpartum depression more commonly than others. Regardless, most women who suffer from postpartum depression do not have any of these risk factors. Also, this disease does not discriminate.
I know medication can help tremendously with postpartum depression. What is usually prescribed and how long does someone typically stay on this medication?
A class of medications called SSRIs or SNRIs are typically prescribed. I encourage women to take the medication for at least 6 months before trying to ween off them. However, many take them for several years.
Why do you think women are afraid to admit they are suffering from the baby blues or postpartum depression?Dr. Lange:
I think it makes women feel stigmatized or judged. Also, the nature of the disease itself can preclude women from seeking help (apathy and a decreased sense of self-worth). Many of us don’t like to admit we need help because we feel we should “be able to handle it”. I have also found that many women don’t like the idea of taking medication. This may stem from worry that it will affect the baby when breastfeeding (which, most meds are very safe).
Where can someone go to find help or more information if they think they are suffering from postpartum depression or depression in general?
Typically, I would advise women discuss this issue with their OBGYN or PCP. There are also online or social media resources. There is a support group in Cincinnati that meets weekly called “A Lighter Shade of Blue.”
Having depression, postpartum depression, or the baby blues is nothing to be ashamed of. It does take a lot of courage to admit that you are not OK and that’s the thing I learned the most from Dr. Lange. It is OK to say that you are not OK. If you are even remotely questioning if you are suffering from depression, postpartum depression or the baby blues, please reach out to someone.
Learn more about postpartum care at The Christ Hospital Birthing Centers. Or schedule an appointment online with an OBGYN near you today.