Telling The Difference Between Baby Blues And Postpartum Depression

A lot of people who welcome a new baby expect nothing but boundless joy, unending love and a veritable herd of rainbow-farting unicorns. But the reality can be jarring.

Suddenly you’re confronted with the stress of exponentially amped-up responsibility. You’re dealing with very little sleep. You may even be freaking out about whether or not the kid is feeding correctly and how that reflects on you as a parent. Those unicorns aren’t farting rainbows. They are pooping regular poop into your very soul. And that’s how you come down with the “baby blues.”


But it’s crucially important to understand that the baby blues aren’t postpartum depression (and vice versa). Understanding the distinction could lead to much better mental health outcomes for everybody in the family.

flickr / Gisela Giardino

flickr / Gisela Giardino

They Call It The Blues

The baby blues are characterized by poorly formed chord progressions (such small hands!) and the actual following symptoms:

  • Generalized irritability
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of appetite

The symptoms are tricky considering they mimic straight-up depression. What truly differentiates the baby blues from depression is that baby blues symptoms will generally resolve in a couple of days.

Of course, that may not keep your partner from experiencing some sense of shame for feeling weepy when they’re supposed to be wildly joyous. But doctors say that most women will experience baby blues to varying degrees of intensity. It’s when the symptoms stick around or get worse that you may need to worry.

flickr / Nick Woodman

flickr / Nick Woodman

Postpartum Depression

The symptoms of postpartum depression, compared to the baby blues, are much more severe and intense. Your partner might be experiencing them but refusing to speak about them. Keep your eye out for:

  • Severe mood swings and excessive crying
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Intense anger
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • An inability to think clearly or make decisions

Of course the big red flags (huge, rippling, used car-lot flags) are if your partner is saying she’s a bad mother, or that the family would be better off without her. That kind of talk should be taken very seriously and every attempt to seek help, or encourage her to seek help, should be made.

flickr / Nathan Csonka

flickr / Nathan Csonka

When To Look for Help

A little fatigue or weepiness is totally normal. But when you start layering on additional symptoms, things may get a little murky. Like the dishwater that you’ve both been neglecting.

The recommendation is that even if you and your partner feel she’s only suffering the baby blues rather than full blown postpartum depression, it’s wise to talk to a doctor. The last thing you want is to be waiting around for those pesky baby blues to go away only to find things spiraling out of control.

Talking is truly always the best early intervention. And as a new dad it’s important to check in with your partner every once in awhile to see how she’s feeling. You might think she’s in the nursery rocker smelling deliciously colored unicorn farts when the truth is a little less cute.

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