Both moms and dads can have the “baby blues” from time to time after a new baby arrives. However, Mom may be more likely to struggle with this, thanks to hormones and the ordeal of childbirth.
She may have mood swings and feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed. She might lose her appetite, have crying jags, or have trouble sleeping.
The difference between baby blues and postpartum depression is time and severity.
If this is just baby blues, these symptoms often fade away within a few days or a week and there’s no need for treatment. The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and are more intense.
Remember: If you or your partner is battling depression, don't wait to ask for help. Depression is a biochemical problem, not a moral or spiritual failure. Like a broken leg, depression is treatable, so if you have it, get it treated.
Instead of simple sadness, your partner may also feel hopeless and worthless. Her interest in the baby may diminish or disappear. She may even think about or worry about hurting herself or the baby. And in extreme (and rare) instances, she can develop hallucinations or act on the urge to inflict harm. Those severe cases call for immediate intervention, and often a hospital stay.
But why would a woman get depressed after the miracle of having a baby?
• Dramatic change in hormone levels, just as more minor hormone shifts impacts her mood before menstruation
• Exhaustion from the delivery and lack of restful sleep
• Feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for the baby or feeling inadequate about it
• Stress over the changes in her career and sense of personal identity
• Feeling less attractive
• Having little, if any, free time
• Distorted or unrealistic expectations of what being a “good” mother means
None of these is the single, undeniable “cause” of postpartum depression, and no one has identified a surefire cause. However, to successfully support your partner, why she has postpartum depression is much less important that how you respond to it.
Start by recognizing you can’t argue someone out of depression any more than you can debate someone out of diabetes. Depression is symptomatic of biochemical imbalances—in other words, it’s a disease.
Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. And if your partner had depression before she got pregnant, she faces a higher risk for postpartum depression. If you think your partner has it, get help from your health-care provider. Antidepressants and other drug therapies can help, especially when combined with “talk” therapy under the care of a licensed counselor or psychologist.