Menu

How to cope with postpartum ‘baby blues’—from a clinical psychologist

Wasn't I supposed to be in bliss-land, subsisting solely on baby snuggles and lullabies?

How to cope with postpartum ‘baby blues’—from a clinical psychologist

I wish someone had warned me about day three postpartum.

After I gave birth to my son, I had been coasting along on a hazy, surreal, but blissful, cloud of euphoric love hormones for all of two days, when out of nowhere a metaphorical lightning storm struck me on my sleep-deprived head.

Suddenly, I was overcome with a sense of… well, I can only describe it as a hopeless misery. There was no trigger, no warning or any particular reason for my distress but I felt as though my whole world was ending. I remember walking around my house just sobbing. Everything felt so hopeless and dark, and I didn't have the first clue why or what was wrong.

I couldn't see things getting better—but couldn't articulate what things. As a clinical psychologist, I was aware of the symptoms of depression, but this felt like something different. It was scary! It scared my husband, too. It scared my husband, too. At one point, as stumped as I was, having exhausted all other options of what could possibly be wrong with me he jokingly asked, "The baby is mine, isn't he?"

For me, these feelings lasted for around three days, peaking around day five, and then just went away. But those three days were a nightmare for me. If I had have known what was coming, I may have been able to lay low and wait it out (preferably with movies and cake).

But I didn't know. No one talks about it. I thought I had ruined my life by having a baby. I thought I was going to feel like this forever. I thought this was what being a mom was going to be like, forever.

All of my existing idiosyncrasies were magnified during this time. My introverted temperament elevated to full-hermit. My senses, already sensitive to excessive noise, light and touch at the best of times, were in complete overdrive during week one postpartum.

If the TV was up too loud, I would be close to panic. I would need to turn down the TV, dim the lights and take some time to breathe in the quiet darkness

This was not lining up with my idealized expectations. Wasn't I supposed to be in bliss-land, subsisting solely on baby snuggles and lullabies?

You're not alone, mama

The reality is that about 70% of women experience something called the "baby blues" after giving birth. It normally rears its ugly head around day three and lasts for a few days—just like it did in my experience. But not one person warned me about it and when I spoke to other moms for this article, they were equally as shocked to discover themselves feeling, shall we say, unstable, on day three (Note: Unstable is a massive understatement).

Research indicates that most women report symptoms, like being really sad, mood swings, insomnia, loss of appetite, and anger, all within the first week after giving birth. Not exactly the magical, dreamy scenario I had painted in my mind.

If the "blues" symptoms are severe, that can be seen as a prodromal stage (risk factor and something to keep a close eye out for) of clinical level postpartum depression later down the track.

The science behind the baby blues

Little had been known about what causes the "baby blues" in the past. There were hypotheses that it might have been because of the sudden loss of freedom, realization of the realities of being a parent, and overall adjustment. But mothers weren't reporting the same symptoms after giving birth to their next children. Surely there was more to it—and there is.

The "baby blues" experience has recently been attributed to the drop in estrogen in the first three days of giving birth, and the increase in the levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A). Levels were found to be up to 43% higher in women who have just given birth than the control group who did not have kids or had had them a long time ago.

The levels of MAO-A were found to hit their peak on around day five postpartum which is consistent with what a lot of moms told me when I asked them about that first week, and indeed how I felt myself. MAO-A's job is to break down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These components greatly influence and regulate our mood.

If not balanced, it causes feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety—even making women more likely to develop more serious mental health disorders.

For most women, the increased levels of MAO-A are temporary and quickly return to normal. But in some cases, they stay raised and this can lead to postpartum depression. If your experience is severe, you aren't coping well, or notice it hasn't gotten better in a few weeks, then it is important to seek help. Your first step should be your general practitioner who will be a wealth of information regarding treatment and referral options. The GP may provide you with medication, counseling suggestions or both and should take your preferences into consideration when it comes to treatment options.

What to do during your first week postpartum

Have realistic expectations and give yourself a break. Now that you know that it is likely that this first week may be pretty tough emotionally, you can plan for it.

  • Ask for help and accept help: Meals, cleaning, errands, debriefing, you name it! Be specific and tell people what you need—your village is alive.
  • Plan to your temperament: Think about how you would like to manage these emotions if they come on. Are you an extrovert who copes with things by having lots of visitors around? Are you an introvert who needs "me time" who should perhaps limit the number of visitors in that first week in case of potential overwhelm? Let people know in advance what you need from them, so you don't have to deal with awkward moments in an already vulnerable time.
  • Create a self-care bag: Fill it with things that generally help you cope with stress—poetry, chocolate, bubble bath, music, crossword puzzles, whatever. Then use it!

Most importantly, remember that you will be okay— this is a physical, relatively normal, hormonal reaction, and will most likely pass very, very soon. If it doesn't or if you are not okay – help is available for you; please ask for it.

You might also like:

This 'mama' necklace is a bestseller for a powerful reason

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama.

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama. No matter what is going on at work, what decision you make about heading back to school, or how you're caring for your family right now, we know you're the best mama for your family.

So in case you need a little reminder of just how incredible you are, we love this sweet necklace from Tiny Tags. And other mamas do, too, because it's been one of our top sellers for weeks.

Whether you're coveting it for yourself or want to gift it to your favorite mama, it's one of those gifts that'll keep on giving years later. It's dainty enough to easily layer with just about anything you have in your jewelry collection, but is just as beautiful as a standalone piece to wear daily. And in these tough seasons, it's honestly a gentle, much-needed reminder that you were made for this. You can do hard things. You are doing the best you can even when it feels like you can't make one more decision.

Tiny Tags script 'mama' necklace

tiny tags mama necklace

The charm is 1/2" long and the chain is 16", falling just above most mama's collarbones. All Tiny Tags personalized jewelry is laser engraved by highly skilled artisans to make the most elegant pieces.

$105

And, don't worry, it's totally low-maintenance. Simply polish with a polishing cloth every now and then for extra shine. Now to decide: gold or silver?

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

14 sweet 'just thinking of you' gifts for every mama

A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs.

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

In Montessori schools, parents are periodically invited to observe their children at work in the classroom. I have heard many parents express shock to see their 3- or 4-year-old putting away their own work when they finish—without even being asked!

"You should see his room at home!" or, "I ask him to put his toys away every day, and it's a battle every single time" were frequent comments.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play