Is It Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

Q: I am a mother of a newborn but lately I have been feeling tired and out of sorts. Could I be experiencing postpartum depression?

A: Following the birth of a child, a mother can go through emotions and feelings that are much like a roller coaster ride. The responsibilities of being a new mother combined with sleepless nights and post-pregnancy hormonal changes can wreak havoc on a mother.

It is important to distinguish baby blues from postpartum depression. Baby blues is a mild form of the mood disorder which can happen anytime from a couple days post-pregnancy to two weeks after delivery. Symptoms include sadness, weepiness and guilt.

Unlike postpartum depression, baby blues will go away. Postpartum depression, which occurs within 12 months following childbirth, causes symptoms like sadness, irritability, depression, anger, inability to bond with baby, problems with eating and sleeping, excessive crying and guilt.

While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20 percent of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop postpartum mood disorders, which also include postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum psychosis, which is a severe disorder that requires immediate medical attention.

The important thing to know about postpartum depression is that it can be treated. Treatment begins at home through emotional support from your spouse, family or friends. Allow yourself to accept assistance from family and friends to help with the baby or around the house. Efforts towards a healthy lifestyle including exercise and healthy diet are also very important. For true postpartum depression this may not be enough and if you find yourself struggling, contact your primary care physician to help determine the next course of treatment. This may include counseling or medication and yes, there are medications that are safe to take while breastfeeding.

By Kelly Pucillo, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca