Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mental illness that many people experience after giving birth. While it is typical to experience emotional highs and lows after giving birth, if the negative feelings continue for longer than 2 weeks, the person may have PPD.

After giving birth, most people experience a range of emotions. Changes in hormone levels can cause mood swings.

The advocacy group March of Dimes explains that after a person has had a baby, levels of estrogen and progesterone suddenly drop and that many people feel overwhelmed and out of sorts.

Doctors describe these feelings as baby blues if the person feels better within about 2 weeks. However, if the individual starts to feel worse or struggles to care for their baby, they call it postpartum depression.

This article looks at the differences between baby blues and PPD. It also explains how doctors diagnose someone with PPD and the symptoms to look out for.

A parent carrying a baby -1.Share on Pinterest
skaman306/Getty Images

The Office on Women’s Health (OASH) explains that the biggest difference between baby blues and PPD is the intensity of the feelings the person is experiencing and how long these feelings last.

Childbirth can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Doctors recognize that it is extremely common for people to experience baby blues in the first couple of weeks after giving birth.

The baby blues are feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that can affect people after having a baby. The baby blues usually go away within 3–5 days.

A person with baby blues may experience:

According to a 2023 paper, these feelings usually diminish, and most people recover within about 2 weeks.

However, if a person’s mood swings, anxiety, or depression are severe or if they last for more than 2 weeks, they may have PPD. With PPD, the feelings may also get more intense and worsen over time rather than improve.

As well as the above symptoms, a person with PPD may experience the following:

  • feeling sad, hopeless, or overwhelmed
  • thoughts of harming the baby
  • thoughts of harming oneself
  • feeling unable to bond or connect with the baby, or feeling as if it is someone else’s
  • memory and attention problems
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or feeling like a bad parent

OASH recommends people talk with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing these feelings for longer than 2 weeks.

Anyone with thoughts of harming themselves or others needs to seek immediate medical attention.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

Was this helpful?

Doctors diagnose a person with PPD by talking with them and using screening tests. The screening tests involve the individual filling out questionnaires about their recent mood and behaviors.

Doctors diagnose a person with PPD if they have at least five depressive symptoms for over 2 weeks.

Doctors may also carry out a physical exam to check for other complications and may want to rule out other mental illnesses.

They may also ask about the person’s lifestyle, including alcohol consumption, smoking habits, and drug use, both prescription and recreational.

There can be a lot of stigma around PPD and parenthood, sometimes making it difficult to admit to certain feelings or behaviors. However, being honest with a doctor is the best way for a person to receive adequate care and treatment.

Common treatments for postpartum depression include:

  • Therapy: A doctor will likely recommend talk therapy to allow a person to develop strategies for managing PPD. Therapy can help an individual discuss worries and feelings, set manageable goals, and learn to respond to situations positively.
  • Medication: A doctor may prescribe certain antidepressants for PPD. They can relieve symptoms of depression, and there are a few that a person can take during chestfeeding or breastfeeding. They may take a few weeks to start working.
Learn more

Learn more about treating and managing PPD.

Doctors recognize PPD as a serious medical condition and treat it with therapy and medications. However, many people without medical training misunderstand PPD and believe the myths surrounding it.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), some people think PPD is less severe than other forms of depression and will soon pass. PPD is a serious form of depression, and without treatment, it can go on for months.

The NHS adds that many people think PPD only affects the person who gave birth. However, it can affect their partner as well. For example, the NHS says 1 in 10 new fathers experience PPD.

These misconceptions can be harmful to people experiencing PPD. A 2022 paper explains that those with the condition often try to hide their feelings, possibly because they fear people will think they are bad parents.

March of Dimes notes that people experiencing PPD may be reluctant to seek help, as they worry they are “bad people” and may feel it is their fault.

However, there is nothing shameful or weak about experiencing PPD and reaching out for help, and experiencing mental health difficulties does not make someone a bad person.

Contacting a medical professional and seeking help will start the process of recovery so people can live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Learn more about postpartum depression in males.

PPD is an illness, and it is important for anyone experiencing the symptoms to seek treatment with a medical professional.

Healthcare professionals can help reassure and treat people with PPD and direct them to support groups and other helpful resources.

Some charities and organizations that offer support to those with PPD include:

Baby blues and postpartum depression are common among people who have just given birth.

However, the feelings disappear on their own with baby blues but may become more intense and long lasting with postpartum depression.

Doctors can treat postpartum depression, and people need to talk with their healthcare team if these feelings persist for longer than 2 weeks.