The miracle of childbirth can be exhilarating, thrilling, life changing. The flipside of having a baby is that afterwards you can still feel drained, exhausted, weepy and moody for no apparent reason. There is no hard-and-fast recovery timeline that women go through after giving birth, but some experts estimate pregnancy hormones remain in the body for one, sometimes two years.
That’s a long time to wait to have your emotions stabilize, and each new mother will be affected differently. Are you concerned because the feelings of joy and excitement you had have been replaced with sadness, weepiness, unexpected mood swings and mild depression? Let us be the first to tell you that it’s OK!
In fact, the vast majority of new mothers will experience these symptoms to some degree. Those feelings even have a disarmingly cute nickname: the Baby Blues.
What Causes the Baby Blues?
Don’t worry; the Baby Blues aren’t like PTSD in the regards that small, seemingly mundane things can trigger them. While the exact cause of the Baby Blues remains unknown, they can be contributed to a number of chemical and environmental factors, and are considered a normal part of new motherhood. After birth a woman’s hormone levels will drop and her body continue to change as milk comes in and engorges a new part of her body. Needless to say, the transition into new motherhood can feel overwhelming. If you’re a recent new mother or about to become one and are reading this—there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for sure!
So What Exactly Are the Baby Blues?
Some women experiencing the Baby Blues describe it as “like PMS but times ten,” while others report experiencing high emotional sensitivity and are more fragile or weepy than usual. Other symptoms can include insomnia, fatigue, restlessness and poor concentration. Each new mother’s body will react differently, try to remain calm and ride out the emotional storm, it too will pass, we promise.
Common symptoms of the Baby Blues include:
- crying jags
- anxiety and nervousness
- sadness or feelings of loss
- poor concentration
- difficulty focusing
- insomnia even when the baby is sleeping
- excessive tiredness or fatigue
- impatience and a short temper
- no desire to be active
The Baby Blues should only last several weeks and in most cases will go away on their own. Sometimes all it takes to shake the Baby Blues is for a new mother’s body and system to settle down into its new role. Bouts of the Baby Blues usually occur anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours of each day.
Getting Over the Baby Blues
While the Baby Blues may be a normal part of new motherhood, there are some things you can do to help get over them quicker. If feeling especially sad, try talking your feelings out with a loving, supportive friend or family member. Having a support group on your side is of utmost importance. While talking will make you feel better, it may only work briefly. Sometimes taking a nap and getting some rest is enough to bolster a new mother’s mood and help keep the blues at bay.
If you can muster up the energy go for a 20-minute brisk walk. Physical activity lasting just 15 minutes has been shown to significantly improve a person’s mood. Sometimes to feel better on the inside, it helps to look good on the outside. If you’re feeling blue and can’t convince yourself to get up and get active, give yourself a nice manicure or at-home spa treatment. You’d be surprised what a fresh coat of polish can do for your nails and your outlook.
Telling the Difference Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
Baby Blues are normal, but what happens when the blues turn into severe and sudden mood swings, deep depression, extreme apathy or worse? Between 11% and 18% of new mothers’ Baby Blues will develop into the more serious postpartum depression (PPD). The difficult part is telling the difference between the two because symptoms for both are very similar.
Some telltale signs and symptoms of PPD include:
- lack of interest in your baby
- negative feelings towards your baby
- worrying about hurting your baby
- not being concerned for yourself
- loss of pleasure
- total lack of motivation and energy
- feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- significant change in weight or appetite
- more or less sleep than usual
- recurring thoughts of suicide, infanticide or death
One of the big differences between Baby Blues and PPD is that once a mother has slipped into PPD, she will become quieter and more withdrawn, sometimes lacking the energy or will to even hold up a bottle. The Baby Blues are supposed to gradually go away, if you or a new mother you know has been suffering from increasingly worse symptoms or hasn’t shown any signs of feeling better in months, than it’s time to speak with a professional. The important thing to remember is that there is no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed. The feelings you’re experiencing are normal and will not surprise the physician or healthcare professional in the least.
What to Do if Your Blues Turn into Postpartum Depression
The first thing to do when you recognize that what you’re feeling may be something more than the Baby Blues is to reach out and seek help. Staying silent will only make things worse. You’d be surprised at how much it can help to just make an appointment with a doctor and discuss what’s been going on. Another thing you should do is reach out to the Daddy of the family and let him know you’ll need a little extra support. And remember, if family and friends offer help and support, accept it with a “thank you.”
Women who have suffered from PPD in the past have a higher chance of experiencing another episode of depression in their lifetime, particularly another episode of PPD if they have more children. It’s important to know your predispositions and prepare for them in advance. Sit the Daddy down and make a plan of action in case you start to feel PPD creep back in, then stick to whatever you two decide.
While PPD may seem like the worst thing that can happen to new mothers, it isn’t. There is one more disorder that can be characterized as a medical emergency and that is post partum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is when the mother loses all contact with reality and can suffer from:
- Extreme agitation and anxiety
- Bizarre behavior and rapid mood swings
- Inability or refusal to eat or sleep
- Suicidal actions or thoughts
- Confusion and disorientation
- Thoughts of harming or killing your baby
In these rare cases the hospitalization of the mother is usually required to keep the mother and the baby safe. The good news is that PPP develops suddenly, usually within the first two weeks after delivery and sometimes within the first 48 hours after delivery.
Sitters and the Baby Blues
If you’re feeling blue and need a hand with the new baby, by all means get a sitter! Sometimes having a family member watch the newborn is better than hiring a sitter because the familial closeness will ease the anxiety of the new mother. Bottom line, if you feel like you need help from a sitter than hire a sitter.
Thankfully, the Baby Blues are normal and every experienced sitter or nanny will be familiar with them. You don’t have to discuss your blues with the sitter if you don’t want to. Postpartum doulas are especially useful during this time and are specially trained to help mothers suffering from the Baby Blues learn how to cope.
Helping Children Understand Mommy’s Baby Blues
Sometimes it can be hard for little ones to understand adult emotions. If you have other children and a case of the Baby Blues don’t be afraid to tell them that Mommy’s feeling a little tired but it’s OK. Depending on your children’s ages, you can enlist the oldest as your special helper and give them small tasks that will keep them occupied while making them feel special.
Be sure to let Daddy in on your plan so if you feel especially overwhelmed one day, he can let the children know that Mommy’s just having a rough day and that everything is just fine.
Tips to Help New Dads Coping with Moms with the Baby Blues
Men, if you thought that getting through your lady’s pregnancy was the tough part, boy are you in for a surprise. Helping a new mother cope with her Baby Blues feels like a battle that nobody can win, but it isn’t and you can win it. Here are some pointers to remember to help the new mother in your household cope with her Baby Blues:
- Let her know you understand. Make it clear that you know she’s not just “being cranky” and that you know she’ll be feeling better soon. Tell her you know she isn’t in control of her feelings right now and that it’s all going to be OK.
- Know when to step in and help. If you can sense that she’s overwhelmed with her usual household duties or an unexpected bevvy of guests, step in and pick up the slack for her. Kindly explain that she still needs plenty of rest and if a couple of kind relatives offer to watch the baby for a couple hours, take it!
- Let her talk about her feelings as much as she needs. Remember that when women talk about their feelings it also helps them process and deal with them. Let her know that whatever she says will not be criticized or judged, no matter what.
- Tell her she’s beautiful and how much you love her! Even if she looks shlubby or isn’t feeling too good, let her know that she’s beautiful and loved. A new mother’s emotional and mental health is fragile at this stage, do this one often.
- Be affectionate, but don’t push sex. Some women are ready to return to the physical and sexual aspects of your relationship sooner than others. The key here is that you exercise patience and remain affectionate no matter how long it takes her to warm back up.
- Tell her how much you love the baby. Moms love to hear good things about their babies; so don’t be shy when it comes to showering the new little one with love and affection.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too! Being a new Dad can be just as difficult as a new Mom at times. If you’re feeling overwhelmed don’t be afraid to reach out and open up to a friend.