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  • Writer's pictureMegan Furman, LPC, LCPC

Baby Blues vs Postpartum Depression

Updated: Apr 10

When moms and birthing parents ask, “Am I experiencing the baby blues or postpartum depression?,” most want to know, “Is this normal or should I be concerned?” Let’s talk about what differentiates these two, their associated symptoms, and what can help. Don’t worry, I’ll also provide some context for what this clinical mumbo jumbo translates to in terms of how you may be feeling.

I’ll throw out some statistics to start. Research estimates that baby blues is experienced by up to 4 in 5 birthing parents, and postpartum depression is experienced by up to 1 in 5. So, baby blues is more common than postpartum depression, and can develop into postpartum depression but more often resolves on its own.

The symptoms of baby blues are not formally established, as it is not an official medical diagnosis, but unexplained tearfulness and sadness are primary indicators. Other possible symptoms are irritability, mood swings, anxiety, and overwhelm. Widely agreed upon are the severity and timing of symptoms. Baby blues is typically seen as mild emotional distress that lasts up to two weeks following birth.

Continued mood disturbance significant enough to interfere with functioning past two weeks postpartum often indicates a mood disorder, such as postpartum depression (PPD). The criteria for diagnosing postpartum depression are the same as criteria for major depressive disorder, but with the additional requirement that symptoms begin in pregnancy or within the first 6 weeks postpartum. PPD can include the symptoms above, along with a few or many of the following: depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, difficulty connecting with your baby, guilt (commonly for not feeling connected to or “in love” with your baby), appetite changes, difficulty sleeping (when your baby sleeps), agitation, feeling slow and sluggish (beyond the consequences of sleep deprivation), feelings of worthlessness, or even thoughts about death.

It’s important to point out that no one person’s experience of emotional distress while pregnant or postpartum is the same. However, there does tend to be a great deal of overlap. This is why we’re able to have a clinical diagnosis and also why we’re able to share with other parents having similar experiences within a support group, to Google postpartum depression and come up with thousands of search results, and to be vulnerable with our family or therapist about our thoughts and feelings. To feel seen and supported by another parent, an article, or a therapist feels so normalizing and relieving.

Treatment for postpartum depression is effective and available, but you do have to know where to look. Counseling, specifically with a therapist who is trained in perinatal mental health, can be incredibly valuable. Perinatal therapists can provide validation of your experiences, psychoeducation, coping strategies for managing symptoms, help improving emotional regulation, facilitation of insight, assistance identifying needs and clarifying values, and a place to process all of the emotions and experiences that come with new parenthood. Medications for depression in pregnancy and postpartum have also been widely studied for safety and can be a useful tool as well.

If you’re feeling “off” or not like yourself, or clearly experiencing any version of the symptoms mentioned above, that’s a pretty good indicator that something is going on. Even if you haven’t figured out precisely what you need, it can’t hurt to reach out for help.

The content on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are in a mental health crisis, please call 988 or the Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 1-833-852-6262.



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