Baby Blues or Something More Serious?

By: Pine Rest Staff

Sad mom looking out window and holding baby boy When a mom is struggling, how can you tell whether it’s baby blues or postpartum depression? (Or other perinatal mood and anxiety disorder?)

Any women can relate to the emotional roller coaster that dominates the first few weeks after a baby is born—and who wouldn’t be a mess? You’re sore, sleep deprived, in a totally new role (regardless of whether or not this is not your first child), your hormones are out of wack and you have little time to take care of yourself.

The term “baby blues” is often used to refer to the mild mood swings that occur after the birth of a child. Nearly 80% of women report experiencing baby blues. Having the baby blues is NOT a rare disorder. It is a typical and temporary part of a new mother’s postpartum emotions.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), on the other hand, are serious mood disorders that, while common (experienced by 15-20% of women), are NOT temporary nor typical.

So how do you know if you or a loved one is experiencing something more serious than the baby blues?

Baby Blues

Baby Blues usually have an onset of about one week postpartum and last about three weeks. Symptoms include moodiness, tearfulness, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and sadness. These feelings come and go but the mother’s predominant mood is actually happiness.

Postpartum Depression (PPD) and Anxiety

Postpartum mood disorders are experienced by about 15% of women and have an onset of any time during pregnancy or following birth of a child until up to approximately two years postpartum. A PMAD lasts longer than three weeks. The peak PMAD risk for new mothers is six months after delivery. Symptoms include excessive worry, sadness, guilt, hopelessness, sleep problems, fatigue, loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities, change in appetite, irritability, and difficulty making decisions.

Postpartum Psychosis

This rare postpartum mood disorder occurs in 1-4 per thousand women. Women with postpartum psychosis experience hallucinations, delusions and confusion. In the most extreme cases, 5% of these women may commit suicide and 4% may commit infanticide.

There is Hope for Moms with PMAD!

Smiling mom cradling newbornJust as you can be proactive about the physical health of the baby and mother, you can also make preparations during pregnancy to take care of a new mom’s (or your own) emotional and mental health. This is crucial and can help combat PPD. Proactive measures you can take include:

Line up support

Find friends and family members who are willing to bring meals, tidy the house, do a load of laundry or just hold the baby while the new mom takes a nap.

Eliminate stress

Make every effort possible to let things go that are causing worry, and avoid bringing any extraneous stresses upon a mother. A new mom’s focus should be on caring for her baby and herself.

Talk openly

Encourage the new mom to be honest about sharing her needs and letting loved ones know how she is doing and when she could use some help.

Follow a healthy diet.

Good nutrition is important for good mental health. A new mom must remember to eat regularly, especially if breastfeeding. In the early weeks home with a new baby, smaller meals and healthy snacks spread throughout the day may be more enticing and manageable than large, sit-down meals. Peanut butter on wheat bread, hummus and pita, fresh or dried fruits and veggies, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, and strips of cooked chicken are all fast, healthy choices. Keep hydrated with lots of cold water to drink.

While perinatal mood disorders are not typical, they are also NOT a sign of weakness. Every mother deserves to enjoy her new baby. Don’t wait to reach out and get help If you or someone you love is struggling!

PMAD Information & Resources

PMAD Information from Pine Rest

Pine Rest Services for PMAD include support groups, outpatient therapy, the Mother and Baby Program, and inpatient services. Our therapists are specially trained in PMAD.

Postpartum Support International – Michigan Resources

Postpartum Support International – Iowa Resources

Postpartum Men

Gretchen Johnson, DNP, MSN, RN-BC, is Pine Rest’s Chief Nurse Executive. She was the  Mother and Baby Partial Hospitalization Clinical Services Manager and coordinator in this program’s development. She is a member of the Healthy Kent 2020 Perinatal Mood Disorder Coalition, American Psychiatric Nurses Association, and the Psychiatric Nursing Council of Southwest Michigan.

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