Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues: How Are They Different?

For women, going through a bout of feeling down after the birth of their child is not out of the ordinary. In fact, an overwhelming majority of women will experience what we call the "baby blues" after delivery. 

But when do symptoms indicate something more severe than regular baby blues? Here is what you should know about postpartum depression or PPD.

To begin with, what do "baby blues" refer to?

Baby blues, which can affect anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of new mothers, is characterized by mild symptoms of depression. Here, the mother may go through mood swings, stress, and anxiety. These symptoms may also be accompanied by crying spells and appetite problems.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, baby blues take around a week to fade away after symptoms start — which is usually within the first six weeks after giving birth. Experts suggest symptoms could also be erratic in some cases, coming and going over a period of one or two weeks before coming to a halt.

How is PPD different from this?

Baby blues should resolve on their own without treatment. But if it lasts longer than expected, the mother may be suffering from PPD. This is a serious mood disorder which needs to be treated by a doctor or nurse.

PPD involves the same symptoms as the baby blues but lasts beyond a fortnight with increased severity. Affected women may suffer from feelings of hopelessness and withdraw from their friends and family.

They may face complications in bonding with their baby, at times not feeling an emotional connection to the child or having intrusive thoughts of hurting or leaving the child.

What are the risk factors for PPD?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that PPD is likely to result from a combination of factors related to the body, the mind, and lifestyle.

Women who have a personal history or family history of bipolar disorder or depression are at higher risk of facing PPD. Substance abuse, being alone, struggling with breastfeeding, and going through complications during pregnancy could also elevate risk.

Experts also highlight the role of disrupted sleep, a highly common issue for new parents. 

"You really are in a situation where you are dramatically sleep-deprived, which has a remarkable impact on mood," said Kristen Carpenter from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

What does treatment for PPD involve?

After diagnosis by a medical expert, they may recommend therapy sessions or participation in a support group. This can help offer guidance and support to the new mother and reduce feelings of isolation.

In some cases, medication may also be used as a form of combination therapy. Recommended changes in lifestyle prioritize stress reduction, usually by taking up exercise and seeking help in caring for the baby so that the mother can get enough sleep.