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The difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression

If you’ve recently had a baby, you may experience depression, anxiety, sadness and trouble eating, making decisions and sleeping. If so, you’re not alone and help is available. But how do you know the difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression? Oluwaseun Cole, M.D., a Piedmont obstetrician and gynecologist, explains.

What are the baby blues?

One main difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression is the timing.

“The baby blues occurs right after you give birth and is usually diagnosed within two weeks of delivery,” says Dr. Cole.

The following symptoms may come and go:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Sadness

  • Questioning whether you can care for your baby

  • Crying

  • Loss of appetite

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Difficulty making decisions

The baby blues usually resolve on their own without treatment and symptoms get better one to two weeks after childbirth.

What is postpartum depression?

“The symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression can overlap,” says Dr. Cole.

Postpartum depression symptoms usually develop one to three weeks after you give birth, though they can develop up to a year after childbirth. Symptoms can include:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Despair

  • Guilt

  • Trouble bonding with your baby

  • Wanting to hurt yourself or your baby

  • Suicidal ideations

These symptoms may affect your ability to do daily tasks, like care for your baby, eat, sleep and work.

Causes of postpartum depression

Dr. Cole says several factors can increase your risk of postpartum depression. These include:

  • Changes in hormone levels that occur after childbirth.

  • A history of depression.

  • Fatigue from giving birth, recovery and lack of sleep.

  • Lack of a good support system.

  • Stressful life events like a move to a new city, death of a loved one or family illness.

  • Adjusting to the major life change of having a new baby.

Treatment for postpartum depression

If you have symptoms of the baby blues or postpartum depression, talk to your OB/GYN or primary care provider. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Your health care provider is there to help.

“When I talk to my patients about postpartum depression, I usually take a conservative approach and recommend lifestyle changes like regular exercise, getting support from your partner and loved ones, eating healthy foods, and seeking counseling,” says Dr. Cole. “If needed, I’ll prescribe antidepressants. If you want to breastfeed, we want to ensure you’re on medications that are safe for breastfeeding.”

She’s an advocate for self-care and asking for help. She advises her patients to:

  • Sleep while the baby is sleeping.

  • Ask someone for help, which can help alleviate stress. If you’re breastfeeding, pump and have your partner or a family member take the night shift. Ask someone else to make dinner or divvy up chores around the house.

  • Get regular exercise, such as a walk around your neighborhood or local park.

  • Eat nourishing, healthy foods.

Dr. Cole also refers her patients to mental health practitioners for additional support. If you have health insurance, she recommends checking with your insurance company to see which mental health providers are in your network and covered by your plan. You can also ask your OB/GYN or primary care provider for a mental health care referral.

“Mental health concerns are real,” she says. “It’s important to find someone you can talk to. You’ll be saving yourself and your family if you seek help. There are so many resources out there.”

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