How to cope with postpartum blues or depression


Many new mothers have postpartum blues, but some women suffer a more serious condition, postpartum depression. Dr. Keith Eddleman, who is head of obstetrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, has vital information about these conditions and how they're treated.

How to cope with postpartum blues or depression Bringing home a newborn baby is supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life. But what if you are feeling everything but happy—is this normal?
  • Know that postpartum blues are very, very common. 80% of all women experience some form of a mood disorder in the postpartum period.
  • Symptoms are vague, but can include extreme fatigue, feeling tearful for no known reason, and a disinterest in caring for your newborn baby.
  • Get help by acknowledging the symptoms, talking to friends and family, and securing some extra help so that you can have a few hours of much needed “me” time to take care of yourself.
  • Postpartum blues generally last for a short amount of time (2-4 weeks) and eventually go away.
  • Postpartum depression has more severe symptoms including: panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, hypersomnia (sleeping all the time), not eating, or feelings of harming yourself or your baby.
  • Seek medical help and call your doctor if: symptoms last more than 2-4 weeks, you have thoughts of injuring yourself or your baby, or you are unable to carry on with normal daily activities.
  • Most women don’t need medication for postpartum blues.
  • Postpartum depression sometimes requires medication, but it often goes away on its own. It’s not a permanent condition.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for You're the mother of a newborn baby. This is supposed to be the happiest time of your life, but guess what? Many new mothers are anything but happy. It's called postpartum blues and it's very common. Dr. Keith Eddleman is professor of Obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and author of two books on pregnancy including Pregnancy for Dummies. Dr. Eddleman thank you for being here.

DR: EDDLEMAN: Thank you for having me.

LISA: A lot of women give birth and feel kind of weird. They may not think of it as depression, they may just think of it as tired or overwhelmed, right?

DR: EDDLEMAN: Right and it's generally called postpartum blues and it's very, very common. Most women don't realize it, but 80% of all women who deliver has some mood disorder in the postpartum period. 

LISA: It's actually a disorder, it's not just exhaustion and hormonal--

DR: EDDLEMAN: Well the symptoms are vague sometimes, but it clearly recognized as a clinical entity. You know it's not just something, you know, I'll go home and it'll get better. 

LISA: Right.

DR: EDDLEMAN: It's a real clinical entity called postpartum blues. Generally it's like extreme fatigue, often above what you would expect. Feeling blue and down, sometimes being tearful for no reason at all. Sometimes you just don't feel interested in taking care of your baby or your newborn and you don't understand why. A lot of the symptoms are vague, but it's very real that women have symptoms.

LISA: So postpartum blues is common; postpartum depression is less common. What's the difference between the two? 

DR: EDDLEMAN:  Well the symptoms are usually more severe in postpartum depression. Severe anxiety, panic attacks are often a component of it. Inability to sleep, insomnia, or hypersomnia--wanting to sleep all the time. Inability to keep yourself nourished--not being able to eat. Feelings of harming yourself or your baby. Those are severe symptoms and are not typical symptoms you would see with postpartum blues. Those are more depression.

LISA: Are they treatable with medication or with therapy?

DR: EDDLEMAN: Most women don't need medication for postpartum blues. What we recommend for postpartum blues, first of all: acknowledge it. Secondly talk to your friends and family about it, you know, it's a real thing, talk to them about it. Try to get some extra help if you can. Just, if you can, steal away for a couple of hours during the day for some me time, time for yourself.

LISA: Now when it falls into full-fledged depression, does that mean that the person is depressed?  Or is this only a short term depression and as a result of the hormonal imbalance of delivering? 

DR: EDDLEMAN: Well the majority of the women who have full-blown postpartum depression with full-blown symptoms generally will get over it. Sometimes they need medication, but it is something that will go away. It's not something that's a longterm, life long thing. 

LISA: Is there an understanding of how long postpartum blues or postpartum depression usually lasts? 

DR: EDDLEMAN: It's usually less than four to six months. usually it's less than four to six weeks. You know and usually the postpartum blues is two to four weeks. But most postpartum depression is usually significantly improved by four to six months after delivery. 

LISA: When should you actually call your doctor and finally say enough is enough. I feel bad, I should feel happy. 

DR: EDDLEMAN:  It's a very important question; I'm glad you asked it. There's some signs really that you should call your doctor about. If your symptoms from postpartum blues persist more than two to four weeks, if you really just find an inability to sleep or you want to sleep all the time, if you are just completely...inability to take carry on activites of daily living. You can't nourish yourself, you don't want to bathe yourself, keep yourself clean. And probably the two most important ones: if you have thoughts about injuring yourself or your baby. You should definitely call your doctor at that point.

LISA: Okay. But, you will get through it. That's the important thing.

DR: EDDLEMAN: Overwhelming majority of women do. That's the good news.

LISA: That's the good news. Okay thanks Dr. Eddleman.

DR: EDDLEMAN:  Thank you.

LISA: For I'm Lisa Birnbach. 

meet theexpert
  • Dr. Keith Eddleman

    Dr. Keith Eddleman Director of Obstetrics, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York Dr. Keith Eddleman is Director of Obstetrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. He practices Clinical Genetics, Maternal & Fetal Medicine, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Eddleman is the author of two books on pregnancy. more about this expert »

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