Having a baby is one of the most joyous occasions of one’s life, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also come with emotional ups and downs. More than half of all new moms will experience postpartum “blues” about three to four days after delivery. Baby blues are caused by sleep deprivation and hormone fluctuations and typically pass in about one to two weeks.
To help cope with the baby blues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Eating well helps, as does getting sleep. Try to sleep when the baby does. Limit well-meaning visitors who may be more of a burden than help for the first several weeks. If you had a c-section, realize that your baby blues may be exacerbated by the stress hormones released while your surgical site heals.
For the first few weeks after baby is born, focus on the fundamentals — eating well and sleeping (for both you and the baby). Spend time bonding with your baby and don’t worry if the house gets dirty or you haven’t showered for a day or two. By the time the baby is six weeks old, life will settle down a bit, and it will settle down even more so by the time he or she is four months old. That’s a relatively short time period to just focus on the fundamentals of caring for yourself and your baby.
Some women have more than the baby blues, they have post-partum depression. The best way to tell the difference between the two is that baby blues tend to be intermittent — you’re fine one moment, crying the next and then fine again. It’s like a hormonal, emotional roller coaster, and it’s time limited to the first one to two weeks. If a new mom is always down or if you’re unable to do things you’d normally do, and it stays with you over several weeks after your baby’s birth, it’s time to seek help. In fact, the peek for postpartum depression is around 6 to 12 weeks postpartum.
I often see women who don’t even realize that they’ve sunk into post-partum depression until someone else tells them they are concerned. Some women fall into a very dark place and start to have negative, scary thoughts. It may be quite common for postpartum women, even for moms who are otherwise doing quite well, to have scary thoughts such as that something “terrible will happen to the baby” or that you are not as a perfect mom as you envisioned to be. But for women who suffer postpartum depression these scary thoughts are permanent, intrusive, and very distressing making their emotional well-being even worse. Many times, such women are afraid to admit their thoughts and feelings, which leads to isolation and makes the problem worse. It’s important to reach out for help (or encourage a new mom you know to seek help if you have concerns).
A good start is to reach out to your prenatal care provider or pediatrician. He or she is very familiar with baby blues and post-partum depression and can refer you to the best resources to get help. Someone experienced in perinatal psychiatry can help manage depression. Because of the hormonal fluctuations, it’s managed on a day-to-day basis.
Many clinics, like ours here at Briarwood Center for Women, Children & Young Adults, have a social worker on staff who can support you during your pregnancy and in the post-partum period.
One great strategy to deal with the baby blues and post-partum depression is to be prepared before you even give birth. Attend parenting and child birth classes and arrange your support team. Your baby’s grandparents or your close friends can be a tremendous asset after you’ve delivered by making you meals, running errands or simply being there to talk when you need someone.
Take the next steps:
- Learn more about classes and support for new moms offered by University of Michigan Health System.
- Learn about care for postpartum depression and anxiety provided by our Department of Psychiatry’s Women & Infants Mental Health Clinic, and check out their webpage.
- Explore the “Caring for your newborn” guide and other resources for pregnant women by our Pregnancy & Childbirth program.
- Check out our Parent Survival Guide and Newborn Book, as well as other guides for caring for your newborn, from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital pediatricians.
- Learn more about U-M pediatricians, seeing patients at 9 convenient locations in Southeast Michigan.
Lisa Anderson, MSW, coordinates the Perinatal Mental Health Clinic at Briarwood Center for Women, Children and Young Adults, as well as providing counseling, support and care management for the clinic.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.