The Baby Blues

What you are feeling is normal. You can and will feel better.

our out of five new mothers will feel sad, frustrated, tearful, anxious, and overwhelmed in the first days and weeks after delivering a baby. These “baby blues” are a completely normal response to the massive psychological, biological, and emotional changes you’ve experienced, but many families are not told to expect this reaction. Having a child is supposed to be one of the happiest times, and it can feel abnormal or even shameful to experience anything but joy. But the baby blues are perfectly normal. You will get better, and there is help if you need it.

It makes perfect sense that your emotions might be out of whack after pregnancy and childbirth, considering all the changes your body and mind have been through. The abrupt spikes and drops in hormone levels, sleep deprivation, and the psychological adjustment to becoming a parent – not to mention the exhaustion of labor and delivery – can easily trigger significant fluctuations in your emotions.

And those first few days are not only tough on the mom: A dad can also have the baby blues, and research shows he is more likely to have symptoms if his partner is experiencing them. It’s sadly ironic that just when we hope to be at our very best, we are often physically and emotionally at a disadvantage.

The good news is that the baby blues are temporary. Neither a condition nor a disorder, the baby blues are a normal reaction to the stress and hormonal changes surrounding childbirth, and your symptoms should improve in two weeks or so. Knowing this will help normalize the craziness you feel during those first few days and relieve the stress of fearing your reaction isn’t “normal.” Feeling emotionally abnormal at this time is actually normal.

A few things couples can do to help alleviate the baby blues:

Learn all you can about postpartum emotional adjustment. This will help you realize that your symptoms are normal. It will also help you recognize when you may need professional help.  

Let others help with housework, childcare, and other basic chores and errands. This can give you the space you need to let your emotions settle and to heal physically and emotionally. It can also give you a chance to catch up on much-needed sleep; sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your emotional state.

Reach out to a trusted friend, partner, or family member for support. It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling. Having someone who can let you experience and express your emotions freely will help you understand and move through them.

Be patient with your partner. Realize this time for what it is – a temporary adjustment period when a tiny baby has all the power and the helpless adults are simply trying to keep up. In your exhausted (and often anxious) state it’s easy to lash out at one another. Try your best to have patience, and be forgiving of one another when you fail.

Be patient with yourself. Your emotions may feel out of whack, but that’s just part of having a baby. Eventually your emotions will even out. In the meantime, hang in there. It really does get easier over time, and it’s ok to just give in a little bit and go along for the ride.

Know when to get help. The baby blues can feel permanent, but they should only last for a few days or weeks. If you still feel blue after two weeks, or if your symptoms seem to be getting worse, you may be experiencing a postpartum mood disorder or an anxiety disorder. Talk with your obstetrician, primary care provider, or a therapist or counselor. Finding an expert in women’s reproductive mental health will get you the help you need.