Is it Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

I’ve had a couple of emails asking about the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression. I figured the rest of you might like to hear my answer as well as my own experience.

I read in all my pregnancy books that most women will experience postpartum blues a few days after giving birth. When I think of blue, I think of the feeling you get on rainy days when you just want to put on your pajamas, cuddle up on the couch with a blanket, and watch movies for hours. I think the same person who labeled baby blues is the same person who labeled morning sickness. If you experienced morning sickness while you were pregnant like I did, you know there is absolutely nothing morning about it. It is all day sickness. You will be on the border of throwing up all day long and unlike the normal stomach flu when you vomit, you don’t feel better. You just keep right on feeling sick.  This is the same amount of idiocy that goes into thinking the shift in hormones lovingly called baby blues lasts for a week or calling it feeling blue.

The best way I can describe those early weeks is being thrust back into early adolescence. Those days were filled with crying or getting extremely upset with no idea why I was so upset, which only made me cry harder. I didn’t know what was wrong with me or how to make it stop. The emotional upheaval as a result of my manic hormonal surge was only a small piece of the puzzle. In addition, I was completely sleep deprived. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique because it is torturous! But when you read about these days, they are casually described as a period of hormonal shifting that lasts about a week and then you return to normal.

If you don’t return to normal and the symptoms continue then you are looking at a diagnosis of postpartum depression. But, I’m not sure it should be classified as a disorder because it is so extremely common. I have the same aversion to diagnosing three year old boys with ADHD. What 3 year old boy doesn’t meet criteria for ADHD? Frankly, I would be much more concerned about a boy if he didn’t meet criteria. The same logic applies Postpartum Depression. Much of what is considered part of the diagnosis is also considered part of the normal process of adjustment. It’s tough to know if you have it because you don’t have a clue how you are supposed to feel. Also, if you go through the diagnostic checklists most women can at least check off a few items.

Woman go back and forth- do I or don’t I have postpartum depression? However, it doesn’t really matter whether you are diagnosed or not because either way the solution is the same: You need help. This is more important than the label you give to define it. Every mother needs help. Period.

I think the scariest part for me was worrying about crossing over the line into postpartum psychosis. It seemed like such a blurry line and I was terrified of crossing it. I can’t tell you the number of times I wondered if the mothers who lost their minds and hurt their babies knew they had crossed over before they did it.  It was one of my biggest fears. Would I just snap one day?

To my relief, I learned from my doctor that in order to for it to be psychosis, there has to be a loss of reality. I hadn’t lost touch with reality. In addition, your symptoms have to interfere with your ability to take care of yourself or others. In my case, this certainly was not occurring. My problem was that I was taking care of too much. Lastly, I’d had some thoughts that scared me and found out being afraid and disturbed by my thoughts was a good thing. As long as they scared me, I was still sane.

I’m not sure I’ve cleared anything up. Maybe I made it more confusing for you. I hope not.

Here is the take home message: Get help when you need it. Don’t worry about diagnosing or labeling your experience.

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8 Responses to Is it Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?

  1. Jessica says:

    Such a great post. After my pregnancies I was so mixed up in whether it was all the grief from the loss of our daughter or PPD. Either way I was miserable.

  2. Kat says:

    Thank you for posting on this. I thought I had depression from after having my second child but when I went to seek help she informed me that my severely low iron could cause Anxiety and the fact I was eating Gluten (have an intolerance) that could cause a world of issues.

    This being said, I’ve cut out Gluten and try to get in more iron. I’m happy again. Real happy for the most part.

    Have you ever heard of moms being vitamin deficient and that being the cause of their depression or other outside issues. Makes sense to me and I was so happy she wouldn’t label me depressed until I took care of myself physically. Would love your input.

    Thanks!

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Yes, I have. I didn’t realize until recently how much iron deficiency can mimic so many other symptoms that are classic of other disorders. Whenever I work with parents, I always encourage them to have their children have a complete medical evaluation first prior to a psychological evaluation. There are so many medical conditions which can be responsible for what we see as being a psychological problem. In my own case, I’ve noticed how much my moods are influenced by sugar. I was having pretty drastic mood swings throughout the day. It dawned on me that perhaps it was related to the amount of sugar I was consuming throughout my day and that the mood swings were related to spikes in my blood sugar. Not surprising, whenever I decrease my sugar intake, the swings disappear. What are your thoughts?

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Get help, get help, get help. I had “it” about a year and a half ago and it would not have been nearly as awful as it turned out to be (a DEFCON 1 meltdown) if I had had somebody to tell.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I waited entirely too long before I got help too. I wish I would have done it sooner. I was so afraid someone would think I was a bad mom or I didn’t love Gus.

  4. Kyra says:

    I felt my craziest about nine months after each one of the boys was born. Right after the birth I was totally fine, but nine months in? Each time – it was like a car crash. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer…

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