Baby blues vs postpartum depression: A guide for new mums


  • Mind
  • Thursday, 28 Feb 2019

Becoming a mother might not be the joyous experience you expect if you get the baby blues.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I was so excited. I was going to be the best mother in the world and I wouldn’t make all the mistakes my mother made. Then I had my baby. I was so happy and tired at the same time. But after I came back from hospital, I started feeling irritable.

Many women have what we call ‘baby blues’. In fact, it happens in 70% to 80% of all new mothers! Baby blues can happen a few days after your baby is born. They usually last a few days to up to two weeks. They usually occur most forcefully around five days after birth.

You may not only feel irritable, but may also feel like crying or actually cry for no reason at all. You may swing from a happy mood to being sad in the next hour. You snap at your husband and mother-in-law, even when all they are doing is trying to help.

You may feel anxious and overwhelmed, like you can’t cope with being a mother – especially with having to wake up to feed your baby every few hours, although you may chalk this down to decreased sleep. You can’t concentrate. You can’t eat properly. When your baby is finally asleep, you can’t sleep!

You feel tired all the time, even when you don’t do anything but feed your new baby, carry her around and put her to sleep, while your mother is pottering around the house, taking care of other things.

Yes, yes! I feel all those things. I was so surprised because I wanted to have this baby so badly. I’m supposed to feel overjoyed and delighted all the time. But suddenly, I find myself bursting into tears. I feel so confused. I mean, I love my baby. So why do I feel this way?

No one knows exactly why the baby blues occur, though scientists have postulated that they may be related to the hormone changes that occur after pregnancy. Your body is going through a lot of hormonal ups and downs, which can produce chemical changes in your brain. Some of these chemicals trigger depression.

Additionally, there are a lot of changes you have to make in your routine with the birth of a new baby. You may not have anticipated all these new changes in your life. For example, you may not have planned on how little sleep you’re going to get, especially if you are the type who has difficulty falling asleep!

You may start breastfeeding, but find out that your nipples are sore all the time. So, it’s perfectly normal that you should feel a little down, like someone who has been promised a heavenly experience and discovering that it’s not all that you thought it would be.

So, the ‘baby blues’ are postpartum depression, right?

Some people believe the baby blues are the mildest form of postpartum depression. But there is a difference. Baby blues don’t usually last beyond two weeks, and they are generally mild – even though you feel lousy. Postpartum depression is more severe and lasts longer.

It develops a few weeks after you give birth, though some women have reported it developing during their pregnancy and as long as one year after birth. The difference between this and the baby blues is that postpartum depression actually interferes with your ability to take care of your baby.

How so?

Postpartum depression symptoms may include all the symptoms you experience while having the baby blues, only the symptoms are more intense. You may feel more depressed than usual, and your mood swings, more severe and unpredictable.

You cry excessively, and you can’t seem to bond with your baby. You may suddenly hate your husband and family members for putting you in this position. You don’t want to socialise with anyone. You can’t eat, or maybe you’re eating too much.

You can’t sleep or you sleep too much. You feel incredibly drained of energy and you don’t like to do the things you usually enjoyed in the past, such as watching television or going to the hairdresser’s. You are irritable and angry all the time, and you think you’re a bad mother.

You feel hopeless, and you don’t think you will ever be a good mother. You are severely anxious, up to the point of having panic attacks. You think that you want to kill yourself and ... maybe even your baby.

In fact, you’re having depression. Some women even go into psychotic depression, with hallucinations and actual attempts to harm their baby because they believe their baby is “something else”.

That sounds terrible! What can I do?

With the baby blues, the best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself. Talk to a friend who is also a mother about how you are feeling. Feed yourself correctly. Take a walk outside and have time to yourself while your baby is being cared for by someone else.

Being a new mum is like having a new job, so don’t expect yourself to be perfect! As for postpartum depression, you or your loved one need to be able to recognise it if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks. Then you have to go to a doctor immediately before something worse happens.


Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.


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