Navigating Mental Health After Birth: Are Baby Blues And Postpartum Depression The Same?

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Are the baby blues a real thing? Yes, and here’s what to look out for. 

Navigating perinatal mental health can feel like a big topic and an even bigger untaking. Even though having a baby can be perceived as a thrilling and incredibly happy experience, there can be a huge difference between a new parent’s expectation versus the actual reality. 

Sure, adding a new member to the family is an exciting experience, however the potential mental health toll is something that new parents (and their support networks) should be fully aware of and prepared for. 

Postpartum depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, baby blues, identity challenges, and relationship dissatisfaction are all common experiences that new parents face during this phase. While those may be tough things to think about or deal with, the important thing to know is that a) everything is treatable with the right support and b) education leads to solutions.

The common mental health issue that is in the mainstream conversation already is postpartum depression (PPD). Most people have heard of this and have a bit of an understanding about how that could look and who it might affect. 

However PPD has a cousin—the baby blues—which is less understood but still affects many (if not most) new mothers. It’s essential to acknowledge the existence of the “baby blues” because of how commonly experienced it is. Many people wonder: “Are the baby blues a real thing?” or “Are the baby blues and postpartum depression the same thing?” 

In this blog post, we’ll explore what “the baby blues” means, how it differs from postpartum depression, and why understanding these distinctions is crucial for new mothers.

Defining the Baby Blues: A Real but Temporary Experience

The baby blues refer to a short-lived period of emotional ups and downs experienced by many new mothers or birthing parents shortly after childbirth. This emotional turbulence typically begins a few days after birth and can last up to two weeks. The primary culprit behind the baby blues is the abrupt hormonal shift that occurs as the body adjusts to the absence of pregnancy hormones, coupled with the challenges of adapting to a new and demanding role as a mother while battling things like sleeplessness and recovery from labour.

Common symptoms of the baby blues include mood swings, tearfulness, irritability, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm. It’s essential to note that experiencing the baby blues does not indicate weakness or inadequate coping skills. Rather, it’s a common response to the physical and emotional changes associated with giving birth. It’s always important to note that just because something is common, that doesn’t indicate that it’s normal or that you should suffer. 

Many new moms or birth parents may wonder if they’ll ever return back to normal again and if that’s the case, reach out and get support or education so that you’re not battling these emotions alone. Experiencing severe symptoms where you feel as though you cannot manage warrants a conversation with a doctor, therapist, or loved one in your support network. 

Differentiating the Baby Blues from Postpartum Depression

Even though the baby blues and PPD have much in common, there are a few factors that differentiate them. The most important difference is the onset and timeline. 

The baby blues are short-term and will set in soon after after giving birth, usually peaking at about 4 or 5 days postpartum. The baby blues, though uncomfortable and difficult to experience, are temporary and the depressive symptoms will go away after the body’s hormones stabilize, usually within 2 weeks postpartum. Anything beyond this two week window is no longer considered normal baby blues. 

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, can start at any point during the first year of the baby’s life. It might not be immediate or present even months after the baby is born only to surface several months after your child is born. PPD is the more persistent and serious mental health condition of the two because it doesn’t necessarily go away on its own and if left untreated, it can continue for years. It also can have a significant impact on a mother or birth parent’s overall ability to complete responsibilities and enjoy a normal life. 

It’s important for parents and their families to understand that while PPD is common, a parent should not be expected to just suffer, deal with it alone, or live with it. PPD requires proper self-care, professional intervention and support. 

Some of the most common symptoms of PPD could include persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in favourite activities, difficulty bonding with the baby, intrusive thoughts, low self-worth, anger, suicidal ideation, feelings of self-doubt or regret, social withdrawal from friends or family, an inability to focus, or just a low feeling that prevents the parent from enjoying their day-to-day life. The symptoms of PPD and general depression are quite often the same with the difference being that PPD is related to the timing of becoming a parent. 

Seeking Support: When to Reach Out to a Perinatal Therapist

Understanding the differences between the baby blues and postpartum depression is crucial for new parents and their support systems. Both experiences can be really difficult to deal with on a journey that’s already a tough one on its own. For that reason, it’s important for new parents, medical professionals, family and friends to know the signs and symptoms and support where they can.

If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing symptoms of PPD or the baby blues, reach out to a perinatal mental health therapist, doula, or trusted medical care practitioner. 

There is no such thing as a problem that is too small to bring to a therapist or counsellor. If your symptoms are disrupting your ability to parent or enjoy your daily life, then getting support will help you learn necessary coping tools and tactics. Neither PPD nor the baby blues are fun to live with. Both are very real, valid, and worthy of your time, concern, and energy. Recognizing the validity of both of these mental health concerns is the first step towards education and healing. 

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About The perinatal collective

Welcome! So glad you're here. 

We're a team of mental health therapists across Canada with advanced education and experience in perinatal mental health, meaning you don't have to cross your fingers and hope that we understand how hard this stage can be.

We understand the nuances of the early stages of parenthood: how typical counselling strategies may not be relevant to parents with young kids, and how mental health challenges look different during this time.  

From deciding to have children, to navigating your journey through fertility, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, relationship changes, parenting, career demands and beyond, parenthood can be full with challenges.

Our goal is to help you manage the peaks and valleys of the entire journey, while staying connected to yourself, and feeling whole, along the way.