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Postpartum Depression: Not Just the Baby Blues

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Postpartum Depression: Not Just the Baby Blues

PD_Character Studies_SS32081In the days or weeks after having a baby, many women find that they feel a little depressed, experiencing symptoms such as sadness, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. These feelings are usually due to the “baby blues,” which are experienced by 70% to 80% of new mothers. However, one in 10 new mothers will experience postpartum depression, which is a serious illness that needs to be treated.

How can you distinguish between the baby blues and postpartum depression? While they do have similarities, each has distinct symptoms. By learning more about theses differences, you will be better equipped to react if you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression.

The Baby Blues

The baby blues involve relatively mild symptoms that appear 3-4 days after delivery and usually go away within a couple of weeks.

The following are symptoms of the baby blues:

  • Mild sadness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irregular sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings

The baby blues usually do not require medical treatment. But if a woman’s symptoms are more severe or last longer than a couple of weeks, it is possible she is experiencing postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a medical illness that occurs within the first six months to one year after giving birth, although it more commonly begins right after delivery.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include the following:

  • Lack of interest or pleasure in life
  • Sleep or appetite disturbances
  • Decreased energy and motivation
  • Increased crying and irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Uncontrollable mood swings
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Fear of harming the baby, yourself, or your partner
  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Fear of being alone
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Hyperventilation
  • Heart palpitations

If you or someone you know is experiencing multiple ongoing symptoms of postpartum depression or thoughts of suicide make an appointment with a healthcare professional.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors make it more likely that a woman will have postpartum depression:

  • Previous depression
  • History of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Marital difficulties
  • Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Young age
  • Single marital status
  • Stressful life events
  • Pregnancy or labor difficulties
  • Lack of social support
  • Baby’s health problems
  • Major life change near childbirth
  • Neurotic and introverted personality characteristics

If you have several of the risk factors listed above, talk to your doctor. An analysis of the results of 15 trials on postpartum depression, which included over 7,600 women, found that support by public health nurses or midwives significantly decreased the risk of developing postpartum depression. If you do experience postpartum depression, it can be treated with therapy, support networks, and medications such as antidepressants. Treating postpartum depression early can help prevent it from getting worse.

Postpartum depression is different than postpartum psychosis, which requires immediate medical attention. In postpartum psychosis, a woman experiences delusions and hallucinations, and is at risk of committing child abuse, suicide, or infanticide. Postpartum psychosis is more rare than postpartum depression, occurring in about 1 in 1,000 new mothers.

Decreasing Your Risk of Postpartum Depression

Strategies that may help decrease your chances of developing postpartum depression:

  • Avoid major life changes (eg, moving, changing jobs) during pregnancy whenever possible.
  • Enlist the support of friends and family, both while you are pregnant and after you have a baby.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and get regular exercise.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about feelings you are concerned about.


Depression After Delivery

Postpartum Education for Parents, National Association of Mother’s Centers

Postpartum Support International


Dennis CL, Creedy D. Psychosocial and psychological interventions for preventing postpartum depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;18:CD001134.

Postpartum depression and the ‘baby blues.’ American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/379.xml. Accessed September 2, 2005.

Recognizing postpartum depression. National Mental Health Association website. Available at: http://www.nmha.org/children/ppd.pdf. Accessed September 2, 2005.

Verkerk GJ, Denollet J, et al. Personality factors as determinants of depression in postpartum women: a prospective 1-year follow-up study. Psychosom Med. 2005;7:632-637.

Last reviewed July 2007 by Ryan Estévez, MD, PhD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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