When the Baby Blues Don’t Go Away: Could it Be Postpartum Depression?

There’s no doubt about it: having a baby is hard work. Many new parents struggle with things like lack of sleep, stress, and financial worries — and that’s completely normal. This is often referred to as the “baby blues;” the temporary period of feeling down that comes after a newborn’s arrival. The baby blues are extremely common; over 80% of new mothers experience this.

But for some people, the “baby blues” become worse or don’t go away with time. If you’ve noticed that you feel worse, not better, as the time passes, then you may have postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, or PPD, is a serious mental illness that requires treatment.

But how can new parents tell if they have normal baby blues or if it’s something more serious? 

Is baby blues the same as PPD?

First of all, it’s important to make clear that having the baby blues is not the same thing as having postpartum depression. You may have heard the term “baby blues” being used interchangeably with postpartum depression. This is incorrect. The baby blues and postpartum depression are two very different things.

If you have the baby blues, you probably don’t meet the full diagnostic criteria for a depressive episode. You may feel sad, moody, or even overwhelmed. But with the baby blues, these feelings are temporary. The baby blues are difficult to get through, and this isn’t intended to minimize how difficult it is. But it is not a diagnosable mental health disorder. Almost every new mother goes through the baby blues.

Postpartum depression isn’t as common — although it’s probably more common than you think. Around 1 in 7 people who give birth end up having PPD. PPD is a diagnosable mental health condition. It’s listed in the DSM-V (the authoritative book on psychiatric conditions) as major depressive episode with postpartum onset. It is much more serious than the baby blues, and may become debilitating if left untreated.

Differences between PPD and the baby blues

Although they may share some similarities, postpartum depression and baby blues are very different. Here are the three main differences that help providers tell them apart.

Timeline

One of the biggest differences between the baby blues and PDD is the timeline. Baby blues tend to come on a few days after having a baby and go away within a few weeks. Your emotions may be very intense during this time, but you usually feel better, and not worse, with time. Many people start feeling better around two or three weeks after giving birth.

Postpartum depression can come on any time between a few days to a few months after giving birth. But PPD doesn’t naturally go away after a few months; if left untreated, PDD symptoms can last for a year or longer. 

Symptoms

The symptoms of postpartum depression are also different from those of the baby blues. If you have the baby blues, you might feel moody, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed. You may even cry a lot.

People with PDD also experience these emotions. But on top of that, they may also feel a powerful disconnect with their baby. This may cause them to have a hard time bonding with their baby, or feel like they aren’t a good parent. People with PDD also have symptoms like:

  • Difficulty sleeping (not because the baby keeps them up at night)
  • A hard time concentrating
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability, mood swings, or anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt
  • Thoughts of hurting your baby
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or ending your own life

If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, call 9-1-1 or visit your local emergency room.

When to get treatment

This may leave you wondering, should I seek out treatment right away, or should I wait to see if my symptoms get worse?

You should always communicate any mental health symptoms to your mental health provider OB-GYN. Especially if you already live with an existing mood disorder, it’s important to keep an eye on any signs of depression during this very delicate time. 

If you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, then you need to treat this situation as a medical emergency. Get in touch with a mental health provider right away, and consider going to your nearest emergency room or calling 9-1-1 for support. 

In the U.S., you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can talk to someone online. Postpartum Support International also runs a non-emergency helpline you can call at 1-800-944-4773.

Whichever provider you decide to contact, be honest with them about how you’re feeling. Both the baby blues and postpartum depression can come along with shame and guilt. But remember that these symptoms are not your fault. Whether you have the baby blues or something more serious, this does not make you a bad parent — and there is hope for recovery.

TMS for postpartum depression

There are many different ways to treat postpartum depression, including therapy and antidepressant medication. One innovative treatment for PPD that’s garnered recent support is transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS therapy.

TMS is a non-invasive brain stimulation therapy that is FDA-approved for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Although more research is needed, the studies that have been done so far indicate that TMS is a safe, effective, and well-tolerated treatment for postpartum depression.

New parents with postpartum depression choose TMS therapy over other depression treatments for many different reasons. First of all, TMS therapy is a drug-free intervention, which is important to many new parents while breastfeeding. It also comes with fewer side effects than other treatments, like medication.

Some people liken TMS to another brain stimulation therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Compared to ECT, TMS is very safe, and doesn’t come with some of the risks that ECT does (like risk of seizure). It’s also a non-invasive therapy, which means you don’t have to undergo anesthesia to receive treatment.

If you’ve developed symptoms of depression after giving birth, the team at Southern Colorado TMS is here for you. We are the region’s premier provider of TMS services, and can support you on this journey. You deserve to enjoy new parenthood, and TMS may be able to help you recover from PDD symptoms so you can do just that.

Get in touch with us to set up an intake appointment today.

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