Baby blues is a term used frequently, but rarely understood. Many people mistakenly use the terms baby blues and postnatal depression interchangeably, but its very important to understand, and even more important to recognise the difference.
Most women know someone who has had postnatal depression – even if you don’t know you know someone – chances are someone you know, who has had a baby, has also had postnatal depression, as the occurrence in Australia is thought to be beyond 1 in 7 women, and 1 in 10 men.
Baby blues however is very different to postnatal depression, as it is short lived, and can be easily attributed to chemical and hormonal changes occurring in the immediate postpartum days.
Baby blues usually occurs between 2-5 days after birth, and is characterised by feelings of overwhelming emotion, usually lasting 24-72 hours. Most women experience these feelings, although presentation may vary – sometimes it will be crying without recognisable reason or stimulation, other times it will be feeling overwhelmed or irrational. Considering birth and the transition to parenthood is extremely tiring, both physically and emotionally, its no surprise feeling this way is so common. Experiencing baby blues however does not mean you have, nor will it mean you will get, postnatal depression.
A woman’s hormones change dramatically in the first few days after having a baby, and this combined with exhaustion is usually the driving force behind baby blues. Around the time that the feelings of baby blues occur, parents have been through the elation and enervation of labour and birth, are adjusting to waking frequently to meet the needs of their new addition, learning new parenting skills (including functioning on very little sleep) and appeasing the masses of excited visitors. Along with this, the midwives and doctors have been doing check ups and starting to plan for going home, mum has been learning to breastfeed, and milk supply changes cause you to feel hot, flushed and emotional too. Is it any wonder after 48 hours you feel like wailing along with the baby?
If you are experiencing ongoing feelings of being overwhelmed, emotional or very flat beyond this time, particularly if these symptoms are occurring regularly for 2 weeks or more, seek assessment through your GP, midwife or obstetrician. But in the days after birth, don’t feel as if there is something grossly wrong, don’t be concerned that acting sad when you actually feel happy means you’re missing something. It will get easier, and you will feel better, but give yourself time to adjust, know there are people there to help you, and most of all, know that baby blues is all part of it.