Baby blues and postnatal depression: What’s the difference?

Kinderling News & Features

Bringing a baby into the world is a life changing moment for many reasons.

But the impact on the mother’s wellbeing can be easily overlooked in everyone’s joy at the arrival of a healthy new life.  

Enter the baby blues

According to GP and women’s health advocate, Dr Sneha Wadhwani, the baby blues are a normal phenomenon of the postnatal period.  

“They occur due to falling hormone levels when the baby is born and also the enormity of bringing a new person into the world,” Sneha told Kinderling Conversation. “Evidence does stipulate that they arrive on day four or day five, but I don’t know that you can pinpoint an exact time.”

In addition to post-partum hormonal changes, Sneha says the timing can also be attributed to changes in newborn behaviour.

“There is a euphoria that happens when a newborn baby is very sleepy, and our days are often filled with a couple of nappy changes and lots of napping. We can get lulled into a false sense of security. But once the baby becomes more alert – usually around the four week mark, that’s when the baby blues become more notable.”

What is the best treatment for the baby blues?

Sneha told Kinderling there is evidence to point to a nutrient deficiency in the postnatal period that could contribute to this lower mood.

“That’s why new pregnancy supplements don’t just provide folate anymore, they have lots of other stuff too. The key nutrient to low mood is Vitamin D. And that’s why we check your levels throughout pregnancy, so we know if we need to be more on top of these nutrients post-birth. And that’s where your GP can advise you.”

If symptoms persist

Sneha says new mothers can expect the baby blues symptoms to last anything between a couple of days to a week, but no longer than a month.

“If the symptoims don’t go away in the expected timeframe, we need to resolve whether it’s something more significant,” says Sneha. “That’s when you need to go and see your GP and check that it’s not postnatal depression, or something else.”

Listen to Dr Sneha Wadhwani on Kinderling Conversation

How do these symptoms compare to postnatal depression?

"There is the pressure once you’ve had a baby, that now you’ve got what you wanted, that you just go off and be happy. But we don’t necessarily know how we are going to react when our babies are born," says Sneha. 

"If you have a predisposition to anxiety or depression, or they are part of your family medical history, you can be at higher risk of PND. And the drop in hormones that are a normal part of the post-birth process can bring out this predisposition." 

What is the treatment for postnatal depression?

Counselling and parent groups, mother's groups and psychologists who specialise in postnatal depression are great places to start. And Sneha told Kinderling that most midwifery teams also have support networks that can help new mothers in the postnatal period. 

"If that's not enough, we can introduce medication and it can be very safe and work really well. If a women is alert to her symptoms, then the treatment can work within just a few months. Once they are back on form again, we can start to wean off the medication and put the whole episode aside," says Sneha. 

If you have concerns about your own mental health or that of others, contact Beyond Blue and Lifeline. Both have free, 24-hour counselling services.