How to tell the difference between the Baby Blues and Postnatal Depression

The difference between the baby blues and postnatal depression

by Mother & Baby Team |

As many as four in five women suffer from the baby blues a few days after giving birth. But how do you know when this is something more serious? Here’s our guide to the differences between baby blues and postnatal depression in new mums.

It’s three to five days after your baby has arrived, you’ve been on cloud nine, but suddenly you feel tearful, irritable and exhausted. You’re suffering with the ‘baby blues’ – a very common result of hormones, tiredness and overwhelming feelings of responsibility for your tiny new arrival. Yet for one in seven women, these blues are actually postnatal depression, so here’s how to tell them apart and work out when to ask for help.

The signs and symptoms of baby blues

  • Feeling tearful: Your body is in a constant state of change a few days after giving birth. Your pregnancy hormones are on the way out and your breast milk is coming in. Weeping because your slippers are on the wrong feet is normal, so keep the tissues to hand and have a good old cry if you need to.

  • Snapping at your loved ones: Unlike the model mother you planned on being, you find yourself snapping at EVERYONE around you. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re sleep deprived and making some massive physical and mental adjustments. Besides, you’ve got years of motherhood ahead, worry about being the peaceful earth mother after your nap.

  • You’re exhausted but you can’t get to sleep: Everyone has warned you about how tired you’d be, but that’s really not helping right now. When your baby naps, you can’t drop off and when your body is screaming for sleep, your little one needs you awake. This is a super common sign of the baby blues, you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, so even if sleeping is difficult find time to take a break. Have a soak in the bath, or a cuddle on the sofa when you need it.

  • You’ve never felt more worried in your life: You look back on the stress you used to feel under at work, or that time you moved house and laugh. Your baby is perfectly healthy and arrived safe and sound, so why do you feel so anxious about everything? The baby blues can make you worry more than you normally would. We promise you’ll feel more confident as you get to know your baby, so try and listen to the reassuring words of those around you.

  • You’ve got baby brain, big time: Your home has been flooded with visitors, but you’re struggling to follow any conversation. You can’t concentrate and have given up hope of remembering what day you used to put the bins out. Relax, this is all part of the change happening right now and will go away as things start to settle.

How can I cope with my baby blues?

  • Get as much sleep as possible: Easier said than done, but now is the time to forget about the washing and the cleaning and get as much rest as you can, especially when your baby is asleep. Even if you can’t nod off, lying down for an hour will help rejuvenate you.

  • Eat well: Sure, have the chocolate you deserve, but keep your energy up with some good nutritious meals.

  • Take each day an hour at a time: Looking too far ahead can be overwhelming. Life with a new baby changes very quickly, so just focus a few hours ahead, rather than panic on how you’ll be coping next week.

  • Ask for help: Don’t try and be super-woman. If you need someone to bring you a cup to tea, change a nappy or find your house keys, ask.

  • Have a cry if you need to: If you’re emotional, let it out.

  • Keep visitors out: Of course all your family and friends want to come and welcome the new arrival, but don’t be afraid to say no and keep people out.

  • Make a list: If you’re a to-do list person, this is definitely something that might help overcome the daunting thoughts in your mind. Write a list of what needs to be done now and what can wait, and delegate some of the tasks to family members – they’ll be more than happy to help.

  • Run a bath: Relax and look after yourself. Adding a few drops of tea tree oil can also help stitches to heal.

How long should baby blues last?

Those with the baby blues, while feeling low for a few days or week, can be reassured that they will feel back to their usual selves quite quickly. In fact, this is one of the main differences between baby blues and Postnatal depression (PND).

PND on the other hand, may not become apparent for a few weeks and symptoms can last for months, especially if you don’t get help. Dr Liz McDonald from the Royal College of Psychiatrists says the first way to spot the difference between baby blues and PND is persistence. While the baby blues comes and goes pretty quickly, postnatal depression may not be apparent straight away and gets progressively worse. ‘So it goes on for more than a couple of days, you can’t be reassured and have started to feel very anxious, in particular about the welfare of the baby,’ you need to seek help.

If your low mood, feelings of inability and difficulty sleeping don’t go away within two to three weeks or seem to be getting worse, it might be time to seek help.

Am I suffering from postnatal depression?

If your low mood, feelings of inability and difficulty sleeping don’t go away within two to three weeks or seem to be getting worse, it might be time to seek help. Remember, postnatal depression is nothing to be ashamed of and you are not alone.

‘Women with postnatal depression can start to get very fearful about the normal things that happen with babies and start to think it’s their fault,’ says Dr McDonald. ‘Thinking that you’re not doing a good enough job is a key sign.’

Postnatal depression can often be missed, partly because women worry they shouldn’t be feeling this way and try to put on a brave face for the world. If you’re feeling that they baby blues aren’t going away, then you need to visit your GP or speak to your midwife or health visitor.

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