Whether you're becoming a mom for the first time or the fourth, the days and weeks
after your baby's birth can be as overwhelming as they are joyful and exciting.
Many women have feelings of sadness after childbirth, ranging from brief, mild
baby blues to the longer-lasting, deeper depression known as postpartum depression.
Feelings of sadness and depression are more common after childbirth than many people
realize. It's important for new mothers — and those who love them — to
understand the symptoms of postpartum depression and to reach out to family, friends,
and medical professionals for help.
With support and treatment, new mothers with depression can go on to be healthy,
What Are the Baby Blues?
Most new moms have something called the baby blues, feelings
of sadness and worry that begin in the first days after childbirth. With the baby
blues, a woman might feel happy one minute and tearful or overwhelmed the next. She
might feel sad, blue, irritable, discouraged, unhappy, tired, or moody. Baby blues
usually last only a few days or a week or two.
Why It Happens
These mood changes are believed to be a natural effect of the hormone shifts that
happen with pregnancy and childbirth. Levels of estrogen and progesterone that increased
during pregnancy drop suddenly after delivery, and this can affect mood. These hormones
return to their pre-pregnancy levels within a week or so. As they do, baby blues usually
gets better without medical treatment.
What to Do
Rest, nutrition, and support are quite important because being exhausted, sleep
deprived, or feeling stressed can make feelings of sadness and depression worse.
To cope with baby blues, new moms should accept help in the first days and weeks
after labor and delivery. Let family and friends help with errands, food shopping,
household chores, or child care. Let someone prepare a meal or watch the baby while
you relax with a shower, bath, or a nap.
Get plenty of rest and eat nutritious foods. Talking to people close to you, or
to other new mothers, can help you feel supported and remind you that you're not alone.
You don't have to stifle the tears if you feel the need to cry a bit — but try
not to dwell on sad thoughts. Let the baby blues run their course and pass.
When to Call the Doctor
If baby blues linger longer than a week or two, talk to your doctor to discuss
whether postpartum depression may be the cause of your emotional lows.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
For some women, the feelings of sadness or exhaustion run deeper and last longer
than baby blues. The symptoms of postpartum depression are triggered by childbirth.
Postpartum depression can start shortly before birth or any time up to 12 months
A woman with postpartum depression may feel sad, tearful, anxious, cranky, discouraged,
hopeless, worthless, or alone. She also may:
have trouble concentrating or completing routine tasks
lose her appetite or not feel interested in food
feel like she is not a good mother
lack interest in her baby or feel anxious about the baby's health
feel overwhelmed by her situation and feel that there's no hope of things getting
Feelings and thoughts like these are painful for a woman — especially during
a time that is supposed to be happy. Many women are reluctant to tell someone when
they feel this way. But postpartum depression is a medical condition that requires
attention and treatment.
Why It Happens
Like baby blues, postpartum depression is thought to be related to the hormone
changes that happen during and after birth. These rapid hormone shifts can lead to
sadness, anxiety, and depression that is more severe and lasts longer than baby blues.
Postpartum depression can affect any woman — but some may be more at risk
for developing it. Women who have a history of depression (including postpartum depression
with a previous pregnancy) or who have a family history of depression are more likely
to get postpartum depression.
Other things that might increase the chance of postpartum depression include serious
stress during the pregnancy, medical problems during the pregnancy or after birth,
and lack of support at home.
When to Call the Doctor
If feelings of sadness or depression are strong, if they last throughout most of
the day for days in a row, or if they last longer than a week or two, talk to your
doctor. A new mother who feels like giving up, who feels that life is not worth living,
or who has thoughts of hurting herself or her child needs to tell her doctor right
Postpartum depression can last for several months or even longer if it not treated.
With treatment, a woman can feel like herself again. Treatment may include talk therapy,
medication, or both. In addition, eating a healthy diet, getting exercise and
enough rest, and finding social support can be very helpful.
It may take several weeks for a woman to begin to feel better once she is being
treated for depression, though some begin to feel better sooner. Ask your doctor about
how soon to expect improvements and ways to take care of yourself in the meantime.
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
A more serious and rare condition is postpartum psychosis. It
may include hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not there,
feelings of paranoia, severe insomnia, and bizarre behavior.
With postpartum psychosis, a woman can have irrational ideas about her baby —
such as that the baby is possessed or that she has to hurt herself or her child. This
condition is extremely serious, and new mothers who have these psychotic symptoms
need medical attention right away.
Why It Happens
Women who have other psychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia,
may be at greater risk for developing postpartum psychosis.
When to Call the Doctor
Postpartum psychosis requires immediate medical attention and,
often, hospitalization. If you or someone you know is having symptoms, get medical
help right away.
How Can I Get Help?
Tell your doctor if you're having trouble with postpartum moods, thoughts, or feelings.
Let someone else you trust know too. This might be your partner, a friend, or a family
member. This is a time to reach out and accept help and support from people close
Besides getting treatment for postpartum depression, small things you do can make
it easier to get through a difficult time. You might find it helpful to:
Take time for yourself. Schedule a babysitter for a regular time.
This way you'll be sure to get time for yourself and know that it's coming.
Focus on little things to look forward to during the day. This
might be a hot shower, relaxing bath, walk around the block, or visit with a friend.
Read something uplifting. Depression may make it difficult to
concentrate, so choose something light and positive that can be read a bit at a time.
Indulge in other simple pleasures. Page through a magazine, listen
to music you enjoy, sip a cup of tea.
Be with others. Create opportunities to spend time with other
adults, like family and friends, who can provide some comfort and good company.
Ask for help. Don't shy away from asking for emotional support
or help with caring for the baby or tackling household chores.
Accept help. Accepting help doesn't make you helpless —
by reaching out, you help yourself and your baby.
Rest. Give your child a quiet place to sleep, and try to rest
when the baby does.
Get moving. A daily walk can help lift mood. (Check with your
doctor before starting any new exercise program.)
Be patient. Know that it may take time to feel better and take
one day at a time.
Be optimistic. Try to think of small things you're grateful for.
Join a support group. Ask your doctor or women's center about
resources in your community.
How Can I Help Someone With Postpartum Depression?
If you're concerned that your partner or someone else you know has postpartum depression,
it's important to encourage her to talk to her doctor and to a mental health professional.
Sometimes a woman is reluctant to seek help or may not recognize her own symptoms
Consider giving the new mom some information on postpartum depression, and offer
to read through it together. You might offer to make an appointment for her and go
with her if she wants.
Once she's receiving the care she needs, support, love, and friendship are good
medicine, too. Here are a few things that you can continue do for her:
Check in with her regularly to see how she's doing.
Listen when she wants to talk.
Go for a walk with her.
Make her a nutritious meal.
Give her some breaks from housework and childcare responsibilities.
Let her take a nap or a relaxing bath while you care for her baby.
Be patient, be kind.
Believe in her — and remind her of her true qualities and strengths.
Like all forms of depression, postpartum depression creates a cloud of negative
feelings and thoughts over a woman's view of herself, those around her, her situation,
and the future.
With the right treatment and support, the cloud can be lifted. This can free a
woman to feel like herself again, to regain her perspective and sense of her own strength,
her energy, her joy, and her hope. With those things in place, it's easier to work
with changes, to see solutions to life's challenges, and to enjoy life's pleasures