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Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues: What They Are & How to Tell the Difference
Mental Well-being

Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues: What They Are & How to Tell the Difference

Sometimes new moms just don’t feel like themselves after bringing baby home.  Maybe it’s not the bliss you pictured, maybe you’re exhausted (probably), or maybe it’s something more. It’s important to know the difference between possibly fleeting baby blues vs. real depression. To help, we asked our Mommy’s Bliss 360 expert, Nicole Kumi, PhD Perinatal Mental Health Professional to walk us through both…and how to get through each.

Transitioning into Motherhood

During pregnancy, much of the focus for you has been on the physical preparations necessary for childbirth and the postpartum period. Appointments with your OB surround nursing, sleeping, schedules, and routines, not leaving much room for questions about the emotional and mental health challenges that can present themselves in the postpartum period. Too often you are not aware of the terms, “postpartum depression” or “the baby blues” until you experience them. This article will provide insight into these terms, offer education about symptoms, and duration, as well as how to identify when professional help is needed.

Pregnancy vs. Depression

Pregnancy has often been described as an emotional roller coaster that is accompanied by cravings, nausea, exhaustion, and joy. Some of the symptoms that you might experience during pregnancy can also be present for someone who is experiencing depression, which can also present itself during pregnancy. It is important to define the signs and symptoms of both diagnoses to ensure accurate treatment interventions are applied. You are encouraged to be as open and honest with your practitioner so that they can fully assess whether your symptoms are a result of pregnancy or a result of depression. The table below can be a helpful reference guide for you to explore this a bit more:

Baby Blues...The Non-Disorder

After the birth of a child, you can experience a wide array of emotions ranging anywhere from complete happiness to utter disappointment and sadness. The reason provided for this range is that it is the largest hormonal shift experienced by a human in their life. You have shifted from carrying this child inside of you, as a part of your being, for the last 9-10 months, and as the child is removed from you, internally, so are many of the hormones that accompanied this partnership. This shift will typically rectify itself within the first two weeks of the postpartum period, but it will bring forth intense emotions during that time which should be monitored by you, your family, and practitioners. This two-week period is used as an indicator for practitioners to assess whether the mother is experiencing “the baby blues” or is beginning to develop postpartum depression.

Key Indicators Of Baby Blues:

  • Affects 60-80% of new mothers universally and this is due to the hormonal fluctuation mentioned above, as well as acute sleep deprivation.
  • Can last anywhere from 2 days to two weeks after birth.
  • It will usually peak 3-5 days after delivery
  • It is NOT a mild form of depression.
  • It is unrelated to stress or prior psychiatric history.
  • Presents as tearful, mood easily changing, exhausted.
  • Predominantly happy. Self-esteem is unchanged.

Postpartum Depression

With a basic understanding of the baby blues, it can be easier to identify what is happening if these feelings/symptoms do not subside within the two-week period. As noted above, duration is a key indicator separating the “baby blues” from the perinatal mood disorder, postpartum depression. With mothers and family members receiving more education about this diagnosis and how it would present, people can be quick to suggest that you might be depressed, or experiencing depression long before it is something that presents factually in you. Not everyone who experiences the baby blues will develop postpartum depression, but it is typical to note that it is usually the result of the continuation and increase in symptoms from the baby blues period. It is important to be open and honest about the intensity of the symptoms as well as the duration so that an appropriate diagnosis can be given, leading to accurate interventions.

**You can experience several symptoms of PPD without receiving a diagnosis because 5 or more of the symptoms below must be present during the SAME two-week period**

Key Indicators for PPD:

  • Depressed mood nearly all-day
  • Loss of interest or joy in typical activities
  • Significant weight change or appetite disturbance
  • Sleep disturbances (hypersomnia or insomnia)
  • Psychomotor agitation (pacing, tapping on objects, rapid talking) movements that serve no direct purpose
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Poor concentration, focus, indecisiveness
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurring suicidal thoughts

It can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions in order to understand what you might be experiencing, and help identify if this is the baby blues or the onset of PPD. Take the quiz below as an indicator of where you might be, so that you can better communicate to your treatment team how you are feeling.

**The results of this quiz in no way substitute as a diagnosis or suggestion for treatment


Everything that you feel and experience in the postpartum period is valid. You are encouraged to speak up honestly about your experience so that the appropriate treatment interventions can be implemented. The sooner you recognize what you are experiencing the sooner you can begin to manage and overcome anything that is preventing you from experiencing everything you desire in motherhood. It is okay to not feel okay. For more information on when and how to seek professional help, read here.

Postpartum Support International has a helpline, monitored by a licensed clinician that can direct your call to appropriate supports, and refer you to trained providers in your area. Please see the information listed below:

PSI Helpline: 1-800-944-4773 8am-11pm EST #1 Espanol or #2 English Text “Help” to 800-944-4773 for English and 971-203-7773 for Espanol

This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.

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