When you bring home a new baby, you expect to feel over-the-moon joy. After all, you just birthed a little human! So you might feel a little surprised to find yourself crying over an old House Hunters episode. What is going on?! If your mood tanks a few days after childbirth, you just might be dealing with the baby blues.
Don’t worry—we’ll give you the scoop on this very common phenomenon. Find out:
What Are the Baby Blues?
Baby blues, or postpartum blues, are feelings of sadness that many new mamas experience after the birth of a baby. In addition to feeling sad or “blue,” many new mamas say they have mood swings and feel lonely.
A new mom’s feelings are so often lumped into two polarizing categories: she’s either doing fine or struggling with postpartum depression. But so often in life, things aren’t just black or white. Sometimes there’s a gray area, and that’s where the baby blues come in.
In fact, up to 80 percent of new mamas experience the baby blues, according to the National Institute of Health. (source)
What Do the Baby Blues Feel Like?
The baby blues are not just sad feelings.
Baby blues can manifest in many ways. You may only notice a few of these feelings, or you may experience everything on the list. Every mama is different.
You may suspect you have the baby blues if you:
- Feel sad and cry: You may cry for no reason or you may cry over something silly like putting a diaper on backwards. (Hey, it happens to the best of us!)
- Feel generally moody or irritable: Again, you may feel irritable for no good reason, or something little may spark an irritable response from you.
- Feel overwhelmed: Trying to take care of a baby, yourself, and clean a home? It can definitely feel overwhelming!
- Feel trapped: Because newborns require nearly 24/7 care, you may feel trapped indoors or like you have no personal space (especially if breastfeeding!).
- Feel vulnerable, scared and/or paranoid: Because a new baby is so very delicate and fragile, you can be obsessed about your child’s safety to the point of being neurotic. This might look like: checking multiple times to see if your baby is breathing; worrying about the child’s health; being fearful that you’ll drop the baby; worrying about your breast milk supply; analyzing everything from baby’s grimaces to her poop can all be part of the postpartum process
- Have trouble sleeping: Despite exhaustion from having your sleep interrupted, you may find it hard to actually sleep once you get the chance! Some mamas blame this on worrying about the new baby. Use these sleep tips to help you relax at night.
- Have trouble focusing: Whether you are trying to remember what you wanted to add to your grocery list or where you put the new stash of cloth diapers, lack of focus is normal.
- Experience significant weight changes: If you’re too worried to eat, you may notice that you lose too much weight too quickly. Unfortunately, rapid weight loss can cause mood swings. If you’re not eating enough, that means your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs.
- Experience anxiety and/or panic attacks: You may feel hot, sweaty, dizzy, nauseous, and like you cannot breathe.
We’ll take a look at some natural ways to cope, but it’s ok (and a good idea!) to seek help if you feel these things.
If you ever feel like you may harm yourself or your baby, you need to get help. Talk to your healthcare provider or call 1-800-PPD-MOMS.
What Causes the Baby Blues
While the exact cause of baby blues is unknown, it’s not at all surprising to think that a new mama would experience a variety of emotions. Consider what your body, your mind, and your spirit has been through these past 10 months?!?! Radical changes! Be gentle with yourself if you aren’t excited about waking up three to four times a night or being peed or pooped on.
The following is a list of the most common contributing factors to developing baby blues:
- Hormonal changes: This is probably the biggest culprit of mood shifts. A British study found that estrogen and progestogen changes after birth are linked to postpartum mood changes. (source) Another study linked mood changes to many more hormones, including progesterone, estrogen, prolactin, cortisol, oxytocin, thyroid, and vasopressin. (source)
- Brain changes: According to researchers, having a baby is one of the most significant biological events you can have in your life—and that affects the brain in profound ways. In fact, after childbirth, the volume of gray matter in a mothers’ brain changes so dramatically in regions involved in social processes that researchers can easily identify women who’ve been pregnant from those who haven’t. (source)
- Lack of sleep: It’s hard to avoid the sleep changes with a newborn especially during the witching hour, but lack of sleep definitely contributes to mood changes. (source) Experts say even adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep, so consider how sleep-deprived new parents truly are!
- Nutritional depletion: During the postpartum period, your body continues to have special nutritional needs—especially if you are breastfeeding! If you skip meals or simply don’t get enough nutrient-packed food, your body may become deficient in certain nutrients. Two very important nutrients—folate and B12—play a big role in supporting a healthy mood. (source) Remember to keep taking your prenatal vitamins while you are breastfeeding!
- Change in home routine: Change is part of life, but sometimes when we make big life changes, it takes a little bit of time to get used to—even if the change is a good one!
- Consuming the placenta: While many mamas find that consuming placenta pills is beneficial after labor, I had a surprising side effect: an increase in baby blues! You can read about my experience here.
Natural Remedies for the Baby Blues
You know what they say, time heals. And in the case of the baby blues, this rings true. But there are plenty of natural remedies you can employ to speed up the process and help regulate your mood.
Get plenty of omega-3s
Fun fact: Omega-3 fatty acids are actually being studied as a viable treatment for depression! (source)
Make sure to include plenty of omega 3-fatty acid-foods into your diet like:
Take vitamin B
Vitamin B12 is found in animal sources and can boost mood and energy levels.
Some of the best sources for vitamin B12 include:
- Clams: One serving of clams contains 1402 percent of your recommended daily intake! (source)
- Beef liver: One serving contains 1178 percent of your recommended daily intake.
- Swiss cheese: It’s not much, but it does contain a little bit of B12: 18 percent.
- Supplement: If you are vegan, try this supplement or fortified brewer’s yeast.
Consider a folate-rich supplement
In one study, pregnant women who took folic acid supplements for more than six months had a lower prevalence of postpartum depression, compared to women who took folic acid supplements for less than six months. EnBrace HR is a prescription-based pre- and post-natal supplement with 800 percent more folate than the average prenatal vitamin. Because of this, studies suggest this supplement is an effective defense against postpartum depression and may help women who have chosen to discontinue anti-depressant while pregnant or nursing. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether this may be an option for you.
Try gentle exercise
Have you heard of the runner’s high? Exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can be just as effective as medication in some studies. As your body heals postpartum, start with a walk around the block, which still gives you those mood-boosting benefits. (source)
Get vitamin D
Seasonal affective disorder and depression are linked to a lack of vitamin D. (source) and according to one study, up to 70 percent of adults have a vitamin D deficiency!
Some of the best sources for vitamin D include:
- Sunshine: Sunshine converts cholesterol into vitamin D, and studies show people have higher levels of serotonin, the feel good hormone, on sunny days. (source)
- Food filled with vitamin D: Try fatty fish like salmon, full-fat yogurt, grass-fed beef, and eggs.
- Supplement: If you live North of the Mason-Dixie line, you can supplement with this vitamin D/K2 blend for proper mineral absorption.
Speaking of sunshine, if you live in a cloudy area, a near-infrared sauna type provides all the benefits of traditional heat therapy, but also introduces light therapy or phototherapy. These saunas emit very low levels of EMFs and provide a variety of health benefits, including improved mood, faster wound healing, increased immune function, and more. (Read more about light therapy here.)
Try the SaunaSpace Near Infrared Sauna for 15 minutes each day.
Eat dark chocolate
YES! I’m giving you permission to indulge in an ounce or so of dark chocolate daily. Why? Chocolate contains endorphins that mimic the way we feel when we’re in love. It also contains important nutrients, like antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals from your body, magnesium, and resveratrol.
Get more sleep
How can you get enough sleep when you have a newborn? Ahh, the age-old question! The good news? There are a few things that can help. Try:
- Sleep when baby sleeps. Yes, this is a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason! Don’t worry about the chores for now. Focus on getting your body the rest it needs.
- Go to bed earlier. Try to squeeze in a little bit more sleep each night. Even just heading to bed 30 minutes earlier each night can add up over the course of the week.
- Co-sleep with your newborn. Though not for everyone, some mamas find this makes middle-of-the-night feedings faster.
- Take a nap during the day. Have your partner or a family member watch your baby, even for 30 minutes, if you can. Power naps are quite powerful—you’ll feel better, but you’ll also notice an improvement in mental clarity, alertness, and memory. (source)
- Avoid blue light/screens for two hours before bed. Blue light throws off your natural circadian rhythm. (source) if you read in the middle of the night while nursing, set your phone/Kindle to night mode to make your screen amber.
Studies suggest acupuncture provides more mood-boosting relief than medication. (source) To find an acupuncturist, you have a few options:
Explore herbal support
Nature provides us with some natural mood-boosting herbs to help regulate our systems. (source.)
For depressive feelings: try Motherwort or St. John’s Wart tinctures
For anxiety: try Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Passion Flower and Hops tea. Or the popular Rescue Remedy.
For sleep issues or feeling overwhelmed: try Ashwagandha tincture or tea, or reishi mushroom in this delicious drink
Always talk to doctor or midwife before taking herbs. You can look up the safety of herbs here.
Try a potato?
A book called Prozac Not Potatoes talks about the importance of proper nutrition for optimal neurotransmitter activity. Moms who are particularly sugar sensitive might find this book especially helpful. In a nutshell, the author Dr. Kathleen DesMaisons recommends eating three balanced meals a day (protein, complex carb, fat) and a special nighttime snack of a small potato (or other complex carbohydrate) with a pat of butter to support serotonin production. Some people have had tremendous success following her seven steps to balance. You can learn more about her program here.
Get help taking care of baby
This is one of the best ways to make sure mama’s needs are being met. It takes a village, right?! With a few extra pairs of hands, you can get help with meals or chores, take a bath (try a sitz bath for double the benefits!), or nap while someone else loves on baby!
If you don’t have family or friends nearby, consider hiring a mother’s helper to come for a few weeks after your baby is born. A mother’s helper does just what the name suggests: helps the new mama with whatever she needs, whether it’s washing laundry, making freezer meals, or holding baby.
You can also consider a postpartum doula, which is a doula that helps mamas during their “fourth trimester.”
Connect with other moms
Many moms with baby blues feel lonely—even if they are not alone! Although your partner may be physically present, they don’t always know what it’s like to go through childbirth. Whether it’s a Facebook group or an in-person support group, it’s nice to know that other women share your highs and your lows. We’re all in this together!
Consider natural progesterone
After delivery, estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically, and there is some evidence that rapid drops in progesterone, in particular, can cause depressive symptoms. With your midwife or doctor’s approval, some moms feel much better by taking a little natural progesterone support, whether that’s progesterone cream applied topically or an herbal progesterone booster like Chaste Tree.
If you need help working through your feelings, consider seeing a licensed therapist or joining a support group. Don’t underestimate the power and value of more informal therapy at church or other local institutions, too.
You can also confide in a trusted friend or family member. To have someone you can call at 4 a.m . and say “Is this normal?” is liberating.
How Long Do the Baby Blues Last?
Baby blues usually begin around 2 to 3 days after the birth of your baby, however they can last for up to two weeks.
It’s important to pay attention to how long your feelings last to rule out other conditions like postpartum depression. (More on that later!)
My Experience with Baby Blues
I didn’t have any postpartum blues with Griffin, although I was certainly a neurotic first-time mom.
With my two girl pregnancies, I definitely had postpartum blues for the first few weeks after birth. I called it my “witching hour,” as it usually set in around 4 p.m. every day and lasted a few hours. My baby blues manifested as feeling overwhelmed.
How could I love and care for all of my children (not just the newborn), and my husband, and do my work, and get back into shape, and cook healthy meals and…
And just like clockwork, right around two weeks postpartum, I began to feel less overwhelmed and sad. As our bodies adjust to its new normal, the funky mood does pass for most moms.
What’s the Difference Between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression?
There’s no minimizing the feelings you experience when you have the baby blues, but it’s important to note that baby blues is usually a less severe and more temporary version of postpartum depression.
You may suspect the baby blues is something more if you:
- Have feelings that last longer than 2 weeks.
- Can’t complete daily activities or function.
- Experience lack of interest in baby.
- Have intense sadness, depression, anxiety, guilt, irritability, or hopelessness.
- Can’t sleep, despite being tired.
- Have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Note: If you experience the above symptoms, it’s important to check in with your doctor. If your partner or a friend or family member notices these symptoms first, take their advice and get the help you need. If you need help ASAP, call the Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS.
Take Your Feelings Seriously
As Mr. Rogers used to say, it is important to “feel your feelings.” Take your feelings seriously, and get help if you need it. (This goes for the papas too!) But it’s also important to remember that, during this time, it’s super important to give yourself some grace. Remember: Having a baby is a big adjustment, and it’s ok to feel out of sorts for a little while.
How About You?
Did you experience the baby blues? What natural remedies helped you?