Mood swings after the birth of a baby are common. While the “baby blues” are the least severe form of postpartum depression, one must not ignore the changes that happen to a woman’s body. Many women feel confused about their emotions and often do not talk about them. However, talking about these emotions, changes, and difficulties is one of the best ways to cope with the condition.
- What Are Baby Blues?
- Prevalence Of Baby Blues
- Symptoms Of Baby Blues
- Postpartum Blues (PPB) Vs Postpartum Depression (PPD)
- Causes of Baby Blues
- Diagnosis Of Baby Blues
- Coping With Baby Blues
- How To Help New Mothers Overcome Baby Blues?
- Embrace New Motherhood
What Are Baby Blues?
Baby blues, also known as postpartum blues (PPB) is a common, temporary psychological state, predominated by feelings of sadness, which occurs right after childbirth. It is typically considered normal and lasts for around 2 weeks during the postpartum period. The condition is determined by frequent mood swings in a new mother, feeling suddenly happy, sad, angry, crying for no reason, or feeling impatient, irritated, anxious, and restless. The baby blues typically arise within a few days of giving birth and if a woman happens to experience a tough delivery, she may notice the symptoms even sooner. According to recent research 1 , “Postpartum blues is defined as low mood and mild depressive symptoms that are transient and self-limited and are extremely common in the perinatal period.”
The condition typically lasts for 1 to 2 weeks after delivery. Sometimes even for a few hours. It must be noted that baby blues is less severe than postpartum depression. The condition always does not require any treatment from a health care provider. Joining a group of new mothers or talking with other mothers helps in soothing the symptoms. However, if the feelings of sadness or anxiousness last longer than 2 weeks, one must consult the health care provider as then the new mother may be diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Prevalence Of Baby Blues
According to a 2011 study 2 , around 58.5% of women tend to suffer from PPB after giving birth, filled with bouts of sadness, anxiety, stress, and mood swings. The study shows that the postpartum period is associated with severe physical and emotional changes, resulting in anxiety and mood disturbances. Additionally, there are three levels of postpartum mood disorders- baby blues, postpartum depression (PPD), and postpartum psychosis. Research 3 reveals that nearly 60–80% of all new mothers suffer from the PPB or baby blues which rarely requires professional treatment and normally dissipates with support and education. However, it is important to conduct a follow-up diagnosis as 20% of women 4 with PPB may develop PPD, which can also adversely affect their child’s cognitive development.
Symptoms Of Baby Blues
As mentioned previously, the symptoms of PPB are less severe than that of postpartum depression. Here are some of the most common symptoms that define the condition.
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Appetite problems
- Inability to make decisions
- Uncontrollable crying over a small issue
- Reduced concentration
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Feeling unattached with child
- Overly worried about the child’s health
Postpartum Blues (PPB) Vs Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Baby blues is markedly different from PPD, which is a more severe condition that requires immediate medical care. Although both conditions may have some similarities, they involve a number of clear differences that define each condition respectively.
1. How Baby Blues Looks Like
- Intense and rapid mood swings from being happy to sad, from feeling proud to feeling anxious, from calmness to anxiousness
- Loss of appetite and not taking care of one’s self
- Feeling irritated, overwhelmed, and anxious
2. How Postpartum Depression Looks Like
- Feeling hopeless, sad, worthless, or alone all the time,
- Crying frequently
- Feelings of doubts about not being a good mother
- Fails to bond with the baby
- Inability to eat properly and lacks sleep
- Inability to properly care for the baby
- Frequent anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming the baby or committing suicide
Causes of Baby Blues
“The baby blues seems to be a physiological process whereby the intensity is influenced by psychological factors,” explains a 2005 study 5 . However, there are no specific causes for the development of PPB. Yet after birth, a woman’s body goes through extreme hormonal fluctuations to help her recover and care for her baby. Hormonal changes affect a mother’s state of mind in the postpartum period. These hormonal changes 6 can result in chemical changes in the brain, thus leading to depression. Apart from that, this is the period when mothers get less sleep and they also have to cope with major lifestyle changes that can also result in the condition.
The 2011 study observed that there is a strong link between many demographic and socio-cultural variables and PPB. Among them, the gender bias of infants is a deeply rooted cultural aspect in India among the economically backward communities. The study reveals that as high as 69% of baby blue mothers are the ones who had given birth to a female child. Additionally, a notable link was found between family income and baby blue. Nearly 62% of mothers suffered baby blue from the low-income category as the entry of a new member into an already economically struggling family could create enormous stress. Also, as in Indian families, women are expected to stay in touch with the in-laws and other family members with whom they face more stress, about 71% of mothers with PPB belong from joint families. Also, an unhealthy marital relationship is a prominent risk factor for PPB, causing 91% of cases. Lack of emotional and physical support from the family members is also a vital risk factor recognized in this study that causes baby blues.
According to studies 7 , some other factors that may contribute towards the development of the condition may include –
- Mood fluctuations linked with pregnancy
- History of mood changes associated with the menstrual cycle
- History of dysthymia or major depression
- Family history of postpartum depression
- Higher volume of lifetime pregnancies
- History of premenstrual depression
- Degree of depressive symptoms 8 while pregnant
However, it should be noted that baby blues are not necessarily caused by the following factors 9 :
- Low financial status
- Racial or ethnic background
- Planned or unplanned pregnancy
- Spontaneous pregnancy or IVF
- Type of delivery (cesarean or vaginal)
- Family history of mood disorders
- Gravidity status (primiparous or multiparous)
Diagnosis Of Baby Blues
Common symptoms of this condition include dysphoric affect, low moods, adness, anxiety, crying and irritability among others. However, proper diagnosis requires that such symptoms should not meet the diagnostic criteria of postpartum depression or major depressive disorder. One of the most crucial diagnostic criterias of PPB is that the symptoms should develop within 2-3 days after childbirth and must be resolved by itself in the next 2 weeks. It should be noted that if the symptoms continue even after 2 weeks, then it may meet the criteria for PPD. In such cases, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional and seek medical treatment. In extreme cases, symptoms of psychosis may also be present which may indicate the onset of postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum blues is not officially recognized by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a separate diagnosis. However, it is identified as “depressive disorder not otherwise specified” or “adjustment disorder with depressed mood”.
Coping With Baby Blues
Baby blues are self-restricted and transient. As the condition is temporary and is naturally resolved in 1-2 weeks, it is a less severe condition that subsides without any professional treatment. However, reassurance, education, validation & psychosocial support can help in the recovery process 10 . However, women diagnosed with postpartum blues must be screened carefully to check whether they meet diagnostic criteria for PPD and for the presence of suicidal ideation. Regardless, a regular self-care routine can help mothers to fight this condition successfully. Some self-care tips to help a new mother overcome postpartum blues are:
1. Take Rest
The mother must take a rest or get enough sleep when the baby is sleeping. During this time, she should not entertain visitors and should also turn off her phone.
2. Body Care
The new mother must take good care of her body. She should eat healthily, do gentle exercises and drink plenty of fluids.
3. Outdoor Time
She should also spend some time outdoors with her baby. The new mother should take walks with the baby that will keep her mentally fresh
4. Seek Help
The new mother should share her concerns with her family and friends expressing herself. She should seek help with household chores and errands.
5. Join Support Groups
It is a wise decision to join a support group and talk to other new parents about your experiences as a parent.
How To Help New Mothers Overcome Baby Blues?
Here are some helpful and effective ways to help your wife or a new mother cope with the condition:
1. Help her to share feelings
Make sure to listen to her with patience, without judging or offering solutions. Rather than trying to fix things, simply be her shoulder to lean on.
2. Offer help with household activities
Take up the responsibility with the housework and childcare, even before she asks for the same.
3. Make sure she spends time with herself
Help her to take a rest and give her the scope to relax. Urge her to take breaks, hire a babysitter, or schedule some date nights.
4. Be patient if she’s not up for physical intimacy
Depression changes sex drive and it may take a while for the new mother to get ready for physical intimacy. Give her physical comfort, however, do not force her if she is not ready for sex.
5. Enjoy walks with her
Regular light workout sessions can make a big dent in depression. However, with baby blues, it is hard to get motivated for the same. Help her by making walks a daily ritual for both of you.
Embrace New Motherhood
Welcoming a child, a woman’s creation, and entering new motherhood is a whole new experience in a woman’s life. As much as women look forward to these moments in their lives, having a baby is stressful. With the change in lifestyle, sleep deprivation, new responsibilities, and lack of time for themselves, new mothers are bound to feel the emotional rollercoaster every moment. Baby blues are a common condition that comes to many new parents with the transition in their life. Fortunately, they usually go away on their own after some time.
However, if a new mother is still feeling sad or anxious after 2 weeks, she must reach out to a family member, trusted friend, or healthcare provider right away for further checkups. While this condition may be normal and short-lived, postpartum depression needs to be treated.References:
- Balaram K, Marwaha R. Postpartum Blues. [Updated 2021 Mar 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554546/
- Manjunath, N. G., Venkatesh, G., & Rajanna (2011). Postpartum Blue is Common in Socially and Economically Insecure Mothers. Indian journal of community medicine : official publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine, 36(3), 231–233. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-0218.86527
- Beck CT. Postpartum depression predictors inventory–revised. Adv Neonatal Care. 2003 Feb;3(1):47-8. doi: 10.1053/adnc.2003.50014. PMID: 12882181.
- Patel V, Rodrigues M, DeSouza N. Gender, poverty, and postnatal depression: a study of mothers in Goa, India. Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Jan;159(1):43-7. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.159.1.43. PMID: 11772688.
- M’baïlara K, Swendsen J, Glatigny-Dallay E, Dallay D, Roux D, Sutter AL, Demotes-Mainard J, Henry C. Le baby blues: caractérisation clinique et influence de variables psycho-sociales [Baby blues: characterization and influence of psycho-social factors]. Encephale. 2005 May-Jun;31(3):331-6. French. doi: 10.1016/s0013-7006(05)82398-x. PMID: 16142048.
- Schiller, C. E., Meltzer-Brody, S., & Rubinow, D. R. (2015). The role of reproductive hormones in postpartum depression. CNS spectrums, 20(1), 48–59. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1092852914000480
- Bloch M, Rotenberg N, Koren D, Klein E. Risk factors associated with the development of postpartum mood disorders. J Affect Disord. 2005 Sep;88(1):9-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2005.04.007. PMID: 15979150.
- O’Hara MW, Wisner KL. Perinatal mental illness: definition, description, and etiology. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2014 Jan;28(1):3-12. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2013.09.002. Epub 2013 Oct 7. PMID: 24140480; PMCID: PMC7077785.
- Howard LM, Molyneaux E, Dennis CL, Rochat T, Stein A, Milgrom J. Non-psychotic mental disorders in the perinatal period. Lancet. 2014 Nov 15;384(9956):1775-88. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61276-9. Epub 2014 Nov 14. PMID: 25455248.
- Seyfried LS, Marcus SM. Postpartum mood disorders. Int Rev Psychiatry. 2003 Aug;15(3):231-42. doi: 10.1080/0954026031000136857. PMID: 15276962.