What is ‘baby blues’ and how is it different from postpartum depression?

Dr. Sonali Quantius
October 31, 2022

80% of women who give birth experience what is commonly known as ‘baby blues’ or ‘postpartum blues’.

Typical symptoms are: getting emotional, irrational or overwhelmed, or irritable and moody, tearful (without understanding why), or anxious and down.So, what are ‘baby blues’ and how is it different from postpartum depression?Here are some of the major differences:

  • Baby blues lasts only for around two weeks and gets better on its own after that while postpartum depression can last much longer than that

  • The main symptoms of ‘baby blues’ are irritability, fatigue, and sadness while symptoms of postpartum depression are often more severe and include aggression, extreme stress, and sometimes no attachment to the baby.

  • ‘Baby blues’ are mostly due to rapid hormonal changes that a woman’s body experiences after giving birth, but postpartum depression can occur due to many different reasons (previous depression, social factors, etc) and needs a clinical diagnosis.

If you cant name it, you cant tackle it.

So, why is it important that we understand the differences between the two conditions?It is because millions of women who continue to feel down after two weeks put it down to ‘baby blues’ and do not seek help for postpartum depression. This is also the reason why screening for postpartum depression happens at six weeks following childbirth and not before. It is very important that persisting symptoms after two weeks are not ignored. Sometimes baby blues develop into postpartum depression and should be especially monitored.

It is very important to get screened regularly for mental health for an entire year after giving birth.

This is because postpartum depression (PPD) can start at any time. The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines postpartum depression as a major depressive episode “with peripartum onset” and further write, “it is PPD if it the mood symptoms occurs during pregnancy or in the 4 weeks following delivery.” However, in clinical practice and clinical research, PPD is variably defined as occurring from 4 weeks to 12 months after childbirth. I have personal experience of getting severely depressed 3 months after delivery and I know many women who have experienced the same.

Ask your doctor when you take yourself or your baby for checkups to screen for PPD and if it is not possible, screening instruments can be found online as well.

There will be a time when every woman and man is screened for postpartum depression with adequate follow-up care, but it is not the current practice now.

Until then, it is up to all of us to inform ourselves and our loved ones about the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression and seek follow-up care if we suspect that it is the latter.

Remember — it is normal to feel down for a couple of weeks after giving birth, but it is not normal to feel like this two months after giving birth. Seek help if you feel that you might have more than just ‘baby blues.’


Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

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