Postpartum care

What’s the difference between postpartum depression, anxiety, and the baby blues?

It’s hard to know what’s “normal” when it comes to all the big emotions, anxious thoughts and sleep deprivation postpartum.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (or PMADs) affect as many as one in seven women with kids. We asked psychiatrist Ariel Dalfen, head of the Perinatal Mental Health Program at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, to explain the symptoms.

Is it just “the baby blues?”

Symptoms of the baby blues:

Feelings of worry, sadness, moodiness, fatigue and irritability in the first few weeks after giving birth. Typically these symptoms are mild and develop within a few days of delivery and may last up to three weeks. To differentiate between the baby blues and PPD, look at the time and the intensity, says Dalfen. If the symptoms last longer than two to three weeks or they become more significant and affect the mother’s ability to take care of herself and her baby, these could be signs of PPD.

How common are the baby blues?

The majority of women—about four in five—experience the baby blues.

Treatment for the baby blues:

Most moms don’t need treatment beyond rest, reassurance and a strong support network.

What is postpartum depression?

Symptoms of postpartum depression: 

Illustration depicting a storm brewing in a mother's mind while she holds her baby Recognizing the signs of postpartum depressionLoss of pleasure or lack of interest in activities; low energy or persistent fatigue; crying; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; poor concentration; poor decision-making; sleep and appetite changes; intense anxiety or agitation; irritability or anger; feeling overwhelmed; or thoughts of harming self or baby. PPD can start within four weeks and up to one year after giving birth. Women with a personal or family history of mental health issues; women with a lack of strong social support; and women who have undergone other major life changes around the same time as giving birth are most at risk.

How common is postpartum depression? 

Between 10 and 16 percent of new mothers will develop a form of PPD.

Treatment for postpartum depression: 

Medication, therapy or a combination of both. Additionally, here are three helpful online resources for postpartum depression support.

What is postpartum anxiety?

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety:

Excessive worrying; feeling like something bad will happen; racing thoughts; and sleep and appetite changes. Postpartum anxiety is a general term that includes several conditions. Post-partum onset panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks that last for 15 to 20 minutes. Women with postpartum OCD have intrusive thoughts or images related to the baby; repetitive behaviour to reduce those fears; and hypervigilance in protecting their baby. Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop in women who had a traumatic labour. (Irritability, hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts and difficulty sleeping are indicators.)

How common is postpartum anxiety?

Approximately 17 percent of new mothers will develop a form of PPA.

Treatment for postpartum anxiety:

Medication, therapy or a combination.

Read more:
Postpartum anger is the red flag no one is looking for
Parenting through severe postpartum depression
6 ways to support a mother who has postpartum depression