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April 29, 2021

The Difference Between Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues

ThedaCare Physician explains when is it time to seek help

ThedaCare Physician explains when is it time to seek help

MARKESAN, Wis. – When a baby is born, so is a mother, and it can come with a flood of emotions. Some you may expect, while others you maybe never thought you’d feel. Postpartum depression and the “baby blues” are two common experiences that mothers may have during their pregnancy and postpartum.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that one out of 10 women in the United States reported symptoms of major depression in the last year. That study estimates that the number of women affected by postpartum depression differ by age, race, and ethnicity. In addition, postpartum depression estimates vary by state, and can be as high as one in five women.

“There are several ways to know if you or a loved one is experiencing postpartum blues (“baby blues”) or is developing postpartum depression,” explained Dr. Karen Hulbert, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Markesan. “Baby blues are milder, peak in a couple days and are typically resolved by two weeks.

The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and interfere with daily life. A typical symptom of major depression is that it causes significant distress or prevents you from functioning how you want to with your baby, your partner or maybe even your family.”

Dr. Hulbert added that when you begin to have these feelings or experiences, or if you’re questioning yourself, then it’s time to seek help. She added that women with baby blues can have up to an 11 times higher risk of developing postpartum depression.

Dr. Karen Hubert

Symptoms of postpartum depression and the baby blues can include, but are not limited to:

Postpartum Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Feeling withdrawn or disconnected
  • Feelings of guilt or anger
  • Worrying and anxiety about the health of the baby
  • Concern about one’s ability to care for their baby
  • Lack of response to support & reassurance
Baby Blues
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sadness  

“It can be difficult to identify it when you’re in the middle of it,” emphasized Dr. Hulbert. “Big changes are taking place – hormone levels vary, there is additional stress, lack of sleep and learning how to be a parent – it’s a lot. We want women, and their partners, to feel empowered to seek help. It takes strength to recognize there could be an issue, and ask for guidance. We want to be that resource for mothers and families.”

Postpartum depression is also different because it can start during pregnancy, and it can also occur anytime during the first year of the baby’s life.      

“I continue screening people for depression through the whole first year of the baby’s life because I know it can sneak up on people sometimes,” she said. “Our care teams can work through this with families, provide an action plan, and begin the healing process.”

If a mother is experiencing symptoms of the postpartum depression or baby blues, Dr. Hulbert encouraged communicating how you’re feeling with your doctor so they can properly monitor your symptoms. There several treatment options and care plans. Here are some recommendations:  

  • Sleep as much as you can, and rest when your baby is napping.
  • Eat foods that are good for you.
  • Go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air, and sunshine can do wonders.
  • Accept help when people offer it.
  • Relax. Don’t worry about chores. Just focus on you and your baby.

For postpartum depression, other options are available.

“Some mothers respond really well to therapy or counseling,” she said. “Others need medication, and that is okay. Whether you’re breastfeeding or not breastfeeding, there are treatment options, we will work through this with you.”

Dr. Hulbert said she likes to focus on having a relationship with her new parent patients because that trusting connection can be the open door for these difficult and sensitive conversations.

Another CDC study found that about four percent of fathers experience depression in the first year after their child’s birth.

“I screen dads and partners too,” she said. “I like to make sure that during an appointment both parents are aware of symptoms to watch for because they may not recognize the signs in themselves or their partner. It’s when they go home and see these things happening in everyday life that might spark a conversation.”

Dr. Hulbert wants families to know while these conversations may be difficult, it best to be open and honest to get help.

“I want all parents to remember, give yourself some grace,” said Dr. Hulbert. “There’s no such thing as a perfect parent — or a perfect baby. Just do the best you can, and remember to take care of yourself so you can be the best parent to your little one.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.