Baby blues: what it is and how it is different from postpartum depression

Baby blues: what it is and how it is different from postpartum depression

Publication date: 22-11-2022

Updated on: 28-04-2023

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

Birth of a baby is an event typically associated with an idea of happiness, contentment, and joy of parents, so much that it seems impossible to many that a new mother do not feel fully happy.

In fact, just after birth, woman faces a radical change in her life, accompanied by severe physical and psychological stress that can result in instability, sadness, and a sense of inadequacy which may prevent her from having an immediate emotional connection with her baby.

How can we distinguish physiological postpartum melancholy, or “baby blues,” from a full-fledged postpartum depression? We discuss it with Prof. Cristina Colombo, Head of the Mood Disorders Unit at the Ospedale San Raffaele-Turro.

What is baby blues?

The baby blues or maternity blues (where “blues” stands for melancholy) is a transient and reversible para-physiological condition that women experience in the week following the childbirth in about 70-80% of cases, due to hormonal changes typical for postpartum.

Symptoms of baby blues

Symptoms of baby blues include very conspicuous emotional reactions on the part of the mother, such as:

  • sudden and unmotivated crying;
  • unstable mood;
  • feeling of inadequacy;
  • reasonless sadness;
  • irritability.

How long do they last?

It is important to emphasize that these disorders have 2 distinct characteristics: they arise just after the event of childbirth (tending to be within 3 to 4 days after delivery) and are transient, that is, they last from a few days to a maximum of 1-2 weeks. 

In fact, the baby blues are absolutely reversible, disappearing once the woman's hormonal balance has readjusted.

Don't worry, it goes away! How?

Symptoms of 'baby blues' generally have a positive natural evolution, gradually improving until they disappear.

Since it is not a disease, there is no need for specific therapies, but your close ones can help and care about you so that you feel supported during this delicate time. The new mother's partner can lend her a hand in this regard, providing reassurance, listening and supporting her, and helping her in the day-to-day care for the baby and with home duties.

Even if the baby monopolizes all the attention for all intents and purposes, taking care of oneself by carving out moments of quiet can help alleviate melancholy and lighten the heaviness of initial difficulties.

Baby blues and postpartum depression: differences and when to seek help

The struggling new mother does not always ask for help. In fact, sometimes she may be embarrassed to talk about her state of mind, feeling faulty for her condition.

Therefore, it is crucial to pay attention to all signs of discomfort perceived in women so as to distinguish baby blues from postpartum depression. Contact the doctor or seek help when the discomfort:

  • arises about 1 month after delivery, sometimes coinciding with the return of the menstrual cycle;
  • interferes with daily activities, including self-care and baby care;
  • is persistent and lasts more than 2 weeks;
  • it does not seem to improve, in fact, it worsens.

Postpartum depression is a real form of depression, which should be brought to the attention of the specialist promptly. If detected, it can be treated and cured, but if neglected, it can lead to life-threatening thoughts or behaviors.

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