Last updated on 1 December 2021
What are the baby blues?
The baby blues, also known as postpartum blues, refer to a short-term dip in mood after having a new baby. This usually shows up around 2 – 3 days after giving birth. Most mothers usually overcome this ‘down’ period within a week or two, and get back to feeling like their normal selves again.
What causes the baby blues?
Changes in hormone levels
It’s believed that changes in hormone levels after having a baby can trigger the baby blues and leave mothers feeling unbalanced. Oestrogen levels alone drop by more than 100 times in the 3 days after giving birth. This, along with the many other chemical changes occurring in the body post birth can cause a temporary low point.
Stresses of parenthood
Apart from hormonal changes, the stresses of parenthood are significant. The responsibility of looking after a child, mastering breast or bottle feeds, constant waking through the night and a mother’s physical recovery are big things to overcome. It’s unsurprising that many women don’t feel themselves.
Symptoms of baby blues
How do you actually identify a case of baby blues? Here are some of the telltale symptoms.
- Mood swings that may leave you feeling angry or sad for no reason
- Feeling irritable or snappy
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling restless
- Feeling guilty that you’re not happy
- Changes to your appetite
Spotting the signs of baby blues in new mothers
Many women don’t tell others about their feelings because they think they should be happy after having a baby. Often women struggle during the first few weeks in silence. Caregivers, friends and relatives can look out for these general indicators of the baby blues:
- The person is quieter than usual
- They don’t seem focused
- They might not be too interested in their baby
- They might be suddenly teary or upset
- They might snap unnecessarily at someone
- They refuse food
Remember, the baby blues are very common, so being proactive and paying attention to someone who has just given birth can help them overcome the condition.
Managing baby blues
The baby blues are temporary, so doctors do not usually treat the condition with any kind of medication. Instead, emotional support, counselling, and patience can help a new mum get through this period.
If you are suffering from the baby blues, here are some ways to cope:
Seek support from friends and family
- Speak with a friend, or a counsellor
- Seek help from family or friends for things such as cooking or housework. Consider a confinement nurse to help take care of your additional needs during your recovery and baby care post-partum
- Ask your partner for help and support, especially during night feeds
- A balanced diet is especially important during the postpartum recovery period. Eating the right food will help you feel better mentally and physically, even if your appetite may be poor.
- Engaging a confinement nurse can help as well because they will prepare meals specifically designed to help you feel better. If not, focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.
- Take a break and go out for some fresh air. An easy walk can help too.
- Book yourself a post-natal massage.
Remember, the baby blues are temporary, and you will start to feel better after a few weeks.
Postpartum Depression & Postpartum Psychosis
While the baby blues are temporary, there are times when things could be more serious than just a low mood. Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are much more serious conditions. The symptoms are easily confused, so it’s important to know the difference.
Postpartum depression is more severe and lasts longer than the baby blues. In some women, it appears during pregnancy and can linger for up to a year after birth. Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression won’t go away on its own. If it is allowed to progress, it can interfere with your ability to manage daily tasks and responsibilities, which includes caring for your baby. Counselling or treatment with anti-depressants can help in recovery.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
- Feeling of hopelessness
- Consistently low mood
- Feeling like you can’t enjoy anything
- No connection with your baby
- Overwhelming stress and anxiety about your baby
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
Postpartum psychosis, also known as puerperal psychosis, is very rare. It is a severe mental illness and requires urgent treatment to prevent harm to you or your baby. Postpartum psychosis can develop very quickly, as early as a few hours after childbirth. It is more common in women with a history of mental illness. Most women recover completely from this condition with medical treatment.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis
- Desire to harm your baby or others
Taking care of yourself
The best way to beat the baby blues is to focus on taking care of yourself. It’s easy to devote all your time to your baby, but a little self-care goes a long way.
Enlist the support of family and friends as that can help a new mother feel better. And remember, if you or anyone you know is exhibiting signs of depression or mental illness, it’s important to seek medical attention from a doctor.
Article reviewed by Dr John Yam, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital
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