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Winter Babies and Postpartum Depression

When do the 'baby blues' become postpartum depression?
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WebMD Feature

As many as three out of every four women will experience the short-term mood swings known as the "baby blues" after their baby is born. But nearly 12% experience more serious and longer-lasting postpartum depression.

How can you tell the difference between the normal mood changes that will abate, and those that could mean depression and a need for treatment? How can you manage postpartum emotions -- whether it's the baby blues or true depression -- in the colder, darker, and more isolated winter months?

Got the Baby Blues?

"Baby blues are very normal and very common," says Catherine Monk, PhD, Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in the departments of psychiatry and obstetrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. "Having a baby, even if it's a second or third baby, is a sea change in your life. That, combined with the fluctuating hormones as your body goes from being pregnant to not pregnant, can lead to major mood swings."

There are two big differences between baby blues and true postpartum depression, experts say:

  • How long your depressed feelings last
  • How intense the feelings are

The baby blues usually begin a few days after delivery and last about 10 days to two weeks. But don't immediately assume that if you're still feeling weepy on day 15, it must be postpartum depression, cautions Monk: "It's not that exact a science."

The baby blues also feel different than postpartum depression. "They're not just about being sad. Baby blues seem to be about being full of feeling," explains Nada Stotland, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Rush Medical College in Chicago. "You may cry because you're feeling sad, but you may also just look at the baby and cry because you're full of emotion."

Could It Be Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression lasts longer, and it's more severe. Stotland describes it as "feeling dragged down all day long, with a gray lens in front of everything you do." The symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Sleep disruption. Everyone tells you to "sleep when the baby sleeps" -- but when you try to fall asleep, and know you need to, you just can't.
  • Appetite changes -- either loss of appetite and losing more postpartum weight than you should, or overeating.
  • Having no interest in seeing people.
  • Inability to enjoy the things you used to enjoy.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Intense self-criticism and self-blame, thinking that you're a bad mother and you can't do anything right.
  • Inability to bond with your baby, which can cause intense feelings of shame or guilt.

If you have several of these symptoms and they've persisted for some time, call your doctor to ask about being screened for postpartum depression. And if you've had any thoughts of harming the baby or yourself, make that call right away.

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