Feeling Sad After Childbirth: Is It Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

    Updated 02 February 2023 |
    Published 30 April 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
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    Giving birth to a new human being may feel exciting. However, to some women, it may also bring long-lasting depressed mood, fatigue, or anxiety.

    Sudden moods swings and tearfulness are symptoms that occur in up to 85% mothers in the first few days after childbirth and are commonly known as the baby blues. In general, they are nothing to worry about.

    After delivery, the levels of female hormones estrogen and progesterone drop abruptly. These hormonal changes may affect the mood causing the baby blues. In most cases, the symptoms vanish within 1-2 weeks, after hormonal levels have stabilized.

    Postpartum depression is different from baby blues, more severe and lasting. Around 15% of new mothers experience it.

    Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression may occur at any time during the first year, most often in the first 4 months after the baby was born. A woman with postpartum depression needs professional help. 

    Postpartum depression may be triggered by one or more of the following:

    – Hormonal changes. Women with postpartum depression may respond more sensibly to the hormonal changes in the postpartum period and while breastfeeding.

    – Poor social support. Caring for a newborn and breastfeeding is a 24/7 job and often goes along with sleep deprivation. Mothers are in need of support from their partner, friends, relatives, or other associates. Single mothers and women with financial or housing problems are at higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

    – Stressful life events. Partnership conflicts, domestic violence, and the loss of a close family member are a risk factor for depression in general. It may lead to postpartum depression as well.

    How to prevent depression

    Prevention starts before the baby is born and depression may develop not only after, but also during pregnancy.

    Being well prepared for motherhood can be helpful to prevent postpartum depression. In antenatal classes, women have the opportunity to discuss their future motherhood, share their concerns, and endorse each other.

    A new mother should have enough time to rest and should take care of having regular healthy meals.

    When you’re raising a child, it’s nice to have a family or friends supporting you. They can help you with the baby and in householding tasks. They can also act as confidants. Sharing your feelings and frustrations is important for mental health.

    When to call a doctor

    In general, you should call a doctor if sadness, irritability, or anxiety last for more than 2 weeks and interfere with your ability to care for yourself and the child.

    You may also need a doctor’s help if any of the following signs are present:

    • Not being able to sleep or being tired and exhausted all the time
    • Poor appetite
    • Feeling even small tasks are hard to complete
    • Feeling highly critical of yourself or others
    • Worrying about the baby all the time
    • Having thoughts of harming yourself or the baby

    Bottom line

    In most cases, a slight mood decline after childbirth is normal and goes away within 2 weeks. If it doesn’t and symptoms of depression persist, psychological therapy and medications prescribed by a doctor are, in general, efficient options to relieve them.

    Content created in association with EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

    History of updates

    Current version (02 February 2023)

    Reviewed by EBCOG, the European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

    Published (30 April 2019)

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