You just had a baby — congratulations! The only problem is you’re crying over diaper blowouts, snapping at your spouse, and wishing you could just jump into your car and drive somewhere — anywhere — without worrying about your next breastfeeding session.
What’s up with you? Having a baby is a joyful experience, isn’t it? Yeah, not for everyone — at least, not right away. For many mothers, bringing home a new baby means stress, exhaustion, and pain, as well as coping with a serious set of raging postpartum hormones throwing all of your emotions into hyperdrive.
In other words, it’s totally normal to forget why you chose to kiss your old life goodbye in favor of one filled with around-the-clock newborn care.
Here’s what you need to know about the baby blues, from how they feel to how long they last.
About 80 percent of postpartum mothers have the baby blues, which refer to a short period after giving birth that’s filled with bouts of sadness, anxiety, stress, and mood swings. That means 4 out of 5 new moms report experiencing them — so chances are you will, too (and if you don’t, you can call yourself lucky!).
The baby blues typically strike within a few days of giving birth, but if you had an especially tough delivery, you may notice them even sooner.
Though doctors can’t pinpoint exactly what causes them, their timing tells us a lot. After birth, your body goes through extreme hormonal fluctuations to help you recover and care for your baby, shrinking your uterus back to its normal size and promoting lactation, among other things. Those hormonal changes can also affect a postpartum mom’s state of mind.
The other probable cause? The postpartum period is one during which parents are not sleeping regularly (or much at all, honestly) and coping with all the major changes in routine and lifestyle that come with a new baby. All of these factors combine to pave the way for the baby blues.
The symptoms can start 2 to 3 days after the baby is born. Most of the time, the baby blues go away on their own soon after birth — usually within 10 days but sometimes up to 14 days postpartum. How you experience the baby blues may be different from how your BFF or sister-in-law does, but generally, symptoms of the baby blues include:
- feeling weepy or crying inexplicably over minor triggers
- having mood swings or being especially irritable
- feeling unattached or unbonded to your baby
- missing parts of your old life, like the freedom to go out with friends
- worrying or feeling anxious about your baby’s health and safety
- feeling restless or experiencing insomnia, even though you’re exhausted
- having trouble making easy decisions or thinking clearly
There are two major indicators that the sadness you’re feeling postpartum is more than the baby blues and might warrant a call to your medical provider to discuss postpartum depression: the timeline and severity of your symptoms.
If you’re still feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed after 2 weeks postpartum, you may have postpartum depression. (The baby blues typically don’t last longer than 2 weeks.)
The baby blues also set in pretty quickly after birth, so if you suddenly begin experiencing symptoms of depression several weeks or months after birth, they’re not the baby blues. Postpartum depression can occur anytime during the first year after having a baby.
Severity of symptoms
What one person considers severe might be more or less so for another person, so this is a little subjective. Typically, the baby blues will leave you feeling down and out of sorts, but they shouldn’t affect your quality of life very much.
On the other hand, postpartum depression isn’t something that comes and goes easily throughout the day; the symptoms are more persistent and won’t go away on their own.
You don’t have to do anything, per se, to treat the baby blues — most people find that as they adjust to their new role and settle into a routine with their baby, they begin to feel more like themselves.
That said, the postpartum phase is tough, and it’s important to take care of yourself as best you can. Finding things that make you feel better during this time of transition might help you get back to “normal” (or, at least, find your new normal) a little faster.
- Get as much sleep as you can. We know, sleep is a priceless commodity in your house right now, but listen to your mother: Sleep when the baby sleeps, and let the laundry pile up. Everything seems worse when you’re exhausted. Sometimes, sleeping is the best remedy.
- Ask for help. That laundry we told you to forget about? Your other option is to let someone else do it for you. There are usually people looking for ways to help out new mothers, so when Grandma comes over and asks what she can do, give her a task. Cooking meals, running errands, changing diapers — don’t try to do it all yourself.
- Eat well and get outside. This one doesn’t need much explanation: Feed your body nutritious foods and get some fresh air. It’s simple but effective.
- Talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be a therapist, but if you have one, give them a call. Otherwise, chat with a family member or friend who “gets” you and won’t judge. Sometimes you just need to get stuff off your chest.
- Do something you love. If it feels like it would be easier to find a unicorn than 5 minutes to yourself, we get it — but living 24/7 for another human being will leave you burnt out and resentful. Whatever it was pre-baby that made you feel happy and relaxed needs to find its way back into your post-baby life (even if it’s only for 20 minutes at a time).
- Bond with your spouse or partner. It’s easy to lose track of the other person you’re in this new life with, but committing to doing something with your partner once a day can go a long way toward helping you both feel connected and supported.
The baby blues are a common part of many new parents’ transition to life with baby. Fortunately, they usually go away on their own soon after birth.
However, if you’re still feeling sad or anxious after 2 weeks — or if your symptoms become severe at any point — reach out to a family member, trusted friend, or healthcare provider right away, or call the SAMHSA National Helpline for local resources. The baby blues may be normal and short-lived, but postpartum depression needs to be treated.