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Postpartum Depression vs. Baby Blues: What’s the Difference?

Contributor: Leena Mittal, MD
5 minute read
A new mother in the hospital with her baby asleep on her shoulder.

Almost every parent experiences intense emotions after their baby is born. Around 1 in 8 people who gives birth develops clinical postpartum depression (PPD).

Leena Mittal, MD, is a Mass General Brigham psychiatrist and the chief of the Division of Women’s Mental Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Here, she explains the differences between the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, and which treatments can help.

People with baby blues have more emotional ups and downs versus clinical PPD, which includes persistent low mood and has a significant impact on daily functioning.

Leena Mittal, MD
Mass General Brigham

How do you know if you have postpartum depression or the baby blues?

PPD is a condition defined by having low mood and depressive symptoms during the weeks surrounding birth. PPD can be severe, making it difficult for new parents to care for themselves and their newborn.

“While we often talk about postpartum depression, what we’re really seeing is emotional complications in the perinatal period,” explains Dr. Mittal. “The perinatal period starts during pregnancy and continues all the way up to 6 to 12 months postpartum.”

Unlike PPD, the baby blues last for a brief period and end about 2 weeks after a baby is born. Doctors think they are caused in part by the hormonal shifts that happen in a birthing person’s body.

People who give birth are likely to experience the baby blues. In fact, around 80% of birthing parents experience symptoms of the baby blues.

It’s worth noting that the symptoms of the baby blues can look a bit different from those of PPD. “People with baby blues have more emotional ups and downs versus clinical PPD, which includes persistent low mood and has a significant impact on daily functioning,” says Dr. Mittal.

Postpartum depression risk factors

“We don’t know the exact causes of PPD,” says Dr. Mittal, “but we do know there are risk factors.” They include:

  • A personal history or family history of depression or perinatal depression

  • A history of mood symptoms associated with menstruation

  • Stressful life events during pregnancy

  • Medical issues

  • Drug or alcohol use

Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression

A new baby is a major life transition. It can cause a range of new feelings and emotions. But just because you’re experiencing mood swings, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re developing a mood disorder.

Early signs of postpartum depression include difficulty getting out of bed, taking care of yourself, or taking care of your baby. A close friend or partner may notice these early signs before you do.

Other PPD signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and typically include:

  • Fatigue

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed

  • Trouble sleeping and eating

  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy

  • Withdrawing from family and friends

  • Little or no interest in your baby

  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to your primary care provider (PCP) or obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) right away. They can help you start a treatment plan.

How long does postpartum depression last?

There is no time limit to PPD or perinatal depression. What’s most important to know is that this condition will last longer if left untreated. It’s important for both you and your baby’s health to seek treatment as soon as possible. 

Treatment of postpartum depression

PPD treatment may include:

  • Medications, such as antidepressants

  • Psychotherapy or counseling with an individual or group therapist

  • Psychosocial support, meaning help from peers, family, friends, or a support group

Experiencing emotional complications after having a baby does not mean that you're a bad parent. And seeking help does not mean you’re unable to care for your baby or family. The right treatment can help you feel better, be more engaged, and care for yourself and your growing family.

Leena Mittal, MD