Maternity Blues: What Are They and How to Treat Them?
Maternity blues, also called baby blues and postpartum blues, is a phenomenon that occurs, above all, in new mothers. It consists of a psychological episode of sadness and a feeling of being overwhelmed. It’s short-lived, but if it isn’t dealt with, it can lead to postpartum depression.
Having a child is an experience that requires a great deal of adjustment. There are changes in all aspects of life, starting with one’s physical appearance.
It’s estimated that up to 80% of mothers experience the maternity blues. The episode usually begins between the third and fifth day after delivery. It lasts from a few hours to a couple of weeks.
What are the maternity blues?
The maternity blues is an emotional state that occurs after childbirth, due to the hormonal and psychological changes that occur during this stage.
Women describe it as “a rollercoaster of emotions”. Although there’s happiness at having given birth, there is also the feeling that everything is very overwhelming and that “the world is coming at you”.
From a clinical point of view, maternity blues is a condition that doesn’t require treatment. It is a normal reaction to the adaptive challenges of having a child. However, it should be monitored to ensure that it doesn’t develop into postpartum depression.
The main difference between maternity blues and postpartum depression is that maternity blues are transient and don’t incapacitate the mother. In depression, on the other hand, the symptoms are intense and tend to worsen, requiring professional help.
The maternity blues usually begin with a feeling of melancholy and sadness, which often leads to crying spells. There’s also irritability and mood swings for no good reason.
The mother may feel that she isn’t able to care for her baby adequately or that she won’t have the strength to cope with all that lies ahead. This is often accompanied by symptoms such as the following:
- A desire to run away
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme tiredness
- Anguish and anxiety
- Insomnia or problems sleeping well
- Dissatisfaction with oneself and insecurity
It’s estimated that 10-15% of mothers who experience the maternity blues will go on to develop postpartum depression. This is usually when symptoms are very intense or persist beyond 3 weeks after birth.
Science doesn’t know the exact causes of maternity blues, but it’s clear that hormones play a very important role in this condition. There are major changes during gestation, but also during birth and postpartum.
After birth, there’s a sudden drop in estrogen and progesterone levels. There are also changes in prolactin and serotonin. This is thought to play a role in the phenomenon, but there’s insufficient evidence to confirm this.
Maternity blues also seem to be influenced by the high demands during the immediate postpartum period. There are changes at an individual, couple, and social level. All of this is overwhelming, especially for less flexible people.
On the other hand, there can be a significant contrast between expectations and reality. There are many myths surrounding motherhood. It’s often idealized and the mother often feels pressured to feel a certain way.
How to deal with it?
The best way to deal with the maternity blues is to have realistic expectations for the postpartum period. Yes, it’s wonderful to have given birth to a new life, but it’s also very demanding and it takes time to connect with the baby and the new situation.
The mother is entitled to experience some different feelings in the face of this experience. It’s important to give yourself permission to feel something that may seem inappropriate to others.
It isn’tt an easy stage and there’s no need to pretend that it is.
Support and understanding from your partner is key. It also helps to consider the following guidelines:
- Understand that it’s something temporary. Sometimes it seems like it isn’t, but it is. These feelings will dissipate.
- Rest as much as possible. Good rest helps to cope with these episodes in the best possible way.
- Build routines. Routines help hormone levels normalize. They also give you a sense of greater control.
- Ask for help. Friends can be very helpful during the maternity blues, as can family and loved ones.
- Share experiences with other mothers. This is an excellent way to demystify many aspects of motherhood.
- Don’t demand too much of yourself. This isn’t the time to be perfectionists and to try to make everything run like clockwork. It’s better to relax and be flexible.
- Allow yourself some whims. Small treats, such as a delicious meal, watching a movie, or going for a walk, are a great way to get over negative emotions.
Pay attention to the “maternity blues”
Unfortunately, the maternity blues go unnoticed by those around you. It’s very common for these episodes to be experienced in silence, even with some criticism or disapproval.
It’s very important for mothers to be aware of the symptoms of maternity blues and to learn to identify when they’re normal and when they may be signs of postpartum depression. Counseling is always an option.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
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- Rodríguez, S. (2010). Anatomía de… tener un hijo. Fotogramas & DVD: La primera revista de cine, (2006), 38-39.
- Faisal-Cury, A., Menezes, P. R., Tedesco, J. J. A., Kahalle, S., & Zugaib, M. (2008). Maternity “blues”: prevalence and risk factors. The Spanish journal of psychology, 11(2), 593-599.