Employee & Community Health

FAQs about 'baby blues', postpartum depression

7/17/2017 by Dr. Matthew Meunier

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Postpartum depression is a common mental health condition that affects approximately one in 10 women during the year after giving birth. Many more women can experience “baby blues,” which are depression-like symptoms that come and go during the first one to two weeks after birth and usually fade away on their own. However, the symptoms of postpartum depression can be more severe, last longer and have serious consequences for the health of both mom and baby. Here are answers to a few of the questions new moms frequently ask:

Q: How do I know if I have postpartum blues or postpartum depression?

A: Postpartum blues is extremely common in the first days to weeks after delivering a baby. Having a new baby at home can be quite stressful and cause symptoms such as crying for no apparent reason, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, sadness and anxiety. These emotions are a normal response to the stress, hormonal changes and poor sleep that come with a new baby. These “baby blues” should come and go, fade within a couple weeks after delivery and not prevent you from caring for yourself or your baby.

Postpartum depression can happen anytime during the year following the birth of your child, although it most commonly appears sometime in the first two months. The symptoms can be similar to postpartum blues, but are more severe and also include loss of interest or pleasure in doing things, loss of motivation, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, loss of interest in caring for your baby or feeling like you would be better off dead.

These symptoms don’t come and go like those of postpartum blues; they last longer than a week or two; and they can get in the way of your ability to take care of yourself and your baby. If you, your partner or your family are worried you may have postpartum depression, it is important to tell your health care provider or your baby’s so they can make a diagnosis and provide you and your baby the help you need.

Q: What causes postpartum depression? What can I do to prevent it?

A: No one knows why or how postpartum depression develops. However, some women seem to be at higher risk. Risk factors for postpartum depression include:

  • Having had it with a previous birth
  • Depression prior to or during pregnancy
  • Family history of depression
  • History of severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Poor social or financial support
  • Other stressful life events during pregnancy or after delivery

While these risk factors cannot always be avoided, staying as healthy as possible during your pregnancy may help. Be sure to exercise, eat a healthy diet and practice stress-reducing techniques. Be sure to follow up with your health care provider before and after the birth of your child to make sure signs of depression are identified and managed early.

Q: What will happen if I am diagnosed with postpartum depression?

A: This is a clinical disease, just like high blood pressure or diabetes. Being diagnosed with postpartum depression does not mean you are a bad mom or that your baby will be taken away from you. But just like high blood pressure or diabetes, it is important to manage this disease to prevent any consequences to your or your baby’s health.

Some women with postpartum depression improve their symptoms with a combination of talk therapy with a counselor or therapist and self-management interventions such as exercise, meditation, healthy eating and socializing with friends. Many women also need antidepressant medications in order to resolve their symptoms. These medications are effective, and many of them are safe to take while breastfeeding. Your health care provider can find one that will work well for you.

Q: Am I going crazy?

A: No! Postpartum depression is common, but it is also very serious. Sometimes women feel like they want to harm themselves or their baby. This doesn’t mean you are crazy or a bad person; however, these feelings shouldn’t be brushed off, and you need to contact your doctor or call 911 immediately if you experience them.

Some women also develop postpartum psychosis. This condition can cause you to see or hear things other people don’t, feel paranoid or like you don’t know where you are. These are very serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Most women with postpartum depression do not experience these severe symptoms, but still feel like they are “losing it” because they think that they should be happy to have a new baby in their life. Do not to let embarrassment or shame prevent you from seeking help. These feelings are common and can be treated with the help of your health care provider.

Dr. Matthew Meunier is a family physician with Women's Health fellowship training in the Mayo Clinic Department of Family Medicine. He is the chief of the Family Medicine Obstetrics and Newborn Services.