The “baby blues” is a term used to describe the feelings of worry and fatigue that many women experience after having a baby. Baby blues, which up to 80 percent of mothers experience, includes feelings that are somewhat mild, last a week or two, and go away on their own.
With postpartum depression, feelings of sadness and anxiety can be extreme and can last for months if not longer. Postpartum depression does not have a single cause, but likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors. After childbirth, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body drop quickly. This leads to chemical changes in the brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical exhaustion, contributing to the symptoms of postpartum depression.
The impact of postpartum depression reaches beyond the new mother. Prolonged or severe mental illness hampers the mother-infant attachment, breastfeeding and infant care. Also, according to the National Institutes of Health, new dads can also experience depression after the birth of a child. It is most often linked to maternal depression. Symptoms include mood changes, little interest in regular activities, feelings of worthlessness, and low energy.
Some of the more common symptoms a woman may experience include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty or overwhelmed
- Crying more often than usual or for no apparent reason
- Worrying or feeling overly anxious
- Feeling moody, irritable, or restless
- Eating too little or too much
- Withdrawing from/avoiding friends and family
- Having trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with her baby
- Thinking about harming herself or the baby
A new mother who experiences any of these symptoms should see a health care provider promptly who can diagnose the condition and explain the therapy and medication options available.