What Actually Are the ‘Baby Blues,' and How Should You Handle Them?

Jessica Harris
·6-min read
Photo credit: Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman - Getty Images
Photo credit: Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman - Getty Images

From Women's Health

When former Women's Health cover star and Made In Chelsea alumni, Millie Mackintosh, shared her personal experience with the 'baby blues' on Instagram, there was an outpouring of support. In a heartfelt post, the new mum-of-one detailed her rollercoaster emotions and the guilt she felt during the first six weeks of motherhood.

It was a familiar story that resonated with fellow new parents across the country. As you might know, while bringing a baby into the world is a time of heady joy, it can also being up feelings of unexplained sadness, anxiety and loneliness. And while that's true at the best of times, given that we're in the middle of a pandemic with a decrease in social connection at its core, it might be even more pertinent.

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Let’s talk about the Baby Blues! Like most new mum’s when I first arrived home with Sienna, I was totally overwhelmed by the love I felt for her, but I also felt very confused by the conflict in my emotions. I’d go from being euphorically happy, to being deeply sad and tearful in the same moment. Hugo would ask what was wrong and I was unable to give him an answer which only made me feel worse as I couldn’t explain these all-consuming emotions. There was the irony of feeling so incredible lucky and happy, surrounded by cake, flowers, cards celebrating our adorable new arrival, yet feeling so stormy inside, which spiralled into anxiety as I feared developing post-natal depression (which did not happen), it almost started to take over the most precious time in my life. After 3 weeks of severe emotional up’s and down’s, I decided reach out and spoke to my Obstetrician. He told me it was very likely it was just to do with my hormones and to see how I was doing at my 6 week check-up. I found it helpful to keep a diary of how I was feeling, noting which days I felt sad vs happy so I could see everything in more pragmatic way instead of living in a tidal wave of my emotions. Over time I could see from the diary that there were less and less sad days, which made me feel more positive and luckily by 6 weeks post-partum I felt much much better. I found that being around nature really helped to boost my mood, so long walks in the park became a daily ritual. I was also very open with my midwife, friends and family about how I was feeling. I know for a lot of people sharing your doubts and worries can feel taboo as you fear that people will think the worst and that you’re not a good mum. For me sharing those worries was a positive experience and I immediately felt those closest to me rally around to support me, Hugo and Sienna. They all checked in daily and reminded me it would pass and in my case they were right. If you you are experiencing the baby blues please don’t be afraid to vocalise it and if you feel like post-natal depression could be setting in then seek professional help as soon as you have those thoughts and feelings. Remember you are never alone!

A post shared by Millie Mackintosh (@milliemackintosh) on Oct 17, 2020 at 2:33am PDT

What are the baby blues?

The phrase 'the baby blues' was first used back in 1940, to describe a period of unexplained sadness post-birth. 'The baby blues are waves of emotion combined with a strong cocktail of hormones usually resulting in a tearful period,' explains Marie Louise, aka The Modern Midwife, expert for Biamother and author of The Modern Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. 'It affects up to 80% of women in the postnatal period (6-8 weeks following birth) and usually kicks in around three to five days after having a baby - around the time your milk comes in.'

If you are worried about your mental health after having a baby, speak to your GP or health visitor ASAP.

Although women may be well versed in the effects of wayward hormones, post-birth fluctuations are something else. 'The pregnancy hormones secreted by the placenta (human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCL), human Placental Lactogen (hPL), oestrogen and progesterone) are withdrawn post-birth, leaving you with a big hormone imbalance [which can] contribute to feels of sadness,' Mr Narendra Pisal, consultant gynaecologist at London Gynaecology says. 'There's also the anxiety of looking after a new baby combined with the discomfort of healing, sleepless nights, changes in your body and heightened expectations – which can all lead to new emotions.'

How do the 'baby blues' differ from post-natal depression?

Although it's easy to worry that a down day or two is the start of something more serious, Marie is quick to reassure that the two are very different. 'Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth, and according to the NHS they affect around 10-15% of women. The main difference between postnatal depression (PND) and the baby blues is the length of time in which it lasts. Generally, we advise that if you find symptoms are persisting for more than two weeks then you need to seek help from your doctor. They will run through some questions to diagnose PND and then offer help, perhaps therapy or medication.'

If you're unsure of how long is too long, Mr Pisal suggests following this scoring sheet to see if it's time to seek professional help.

Is it normal to cry a lot after giving birth?

From putting your shoes on the wrong feet to the Amazon advert, blubbing at a moments notice is all too familiar when hormones come out to play. Cutting yourself some slack whilst also keeping an eye on your emotions is key to identifying if there's a real problem at the heart of it.

'It is normal to cry a lot – you're sleep deprived, anxious and not really knowing what you're doing but you should have times that you also feel elated and happy,' Marie says. 'Being tearful a lot throughout the day is normal but really crying all day would indicate you may need more support.'

What can I do to get rid of the 'baby blues'

As Millie cited long walks in nature, being open with family and friends and keeping a diary of how she felt, Mr Pisal concurs that self care is key to minimising down spells. 'Preparing for the baby’s arrival is important but won’t always prevent the baby blues,' he warns. Remember: 'The feeling of being overwhelmed and the imposter-syndrome will soon pass and you will be able to enjoy your new life to the fullest.'

Here's his tips for keeping the 'baby blues' at bay:

  • 'Seeking help from your family and friends [that might be via phone calls, these days] will not only give you more time and rest but they will also be able to participate in some of the happiest moments of your life.'

  • 'Taking time for yourself is vital and this includes small acts of self-care such has eating regularly and even having a shower.'

  • 'You must also have some me-time (baby-free if necessary) with yoga, exercise, rest, reading, spending time in nature or whatever takes your fancy.'

I had the 'baby blues' – this is how I felt

When Frankie Hales struggled with her identity as a new mum, she knew it was time to get help

'I had heard a lot about the baby blues, and suspected it could be a problem for me as a relatively anxious person. I had a difficult birth with minimal recovery time and my hormones came in thick and fast. With a new mini human to look after, and a huge wobble of an identity crisis, I was completely taken out by the baby blues. I felt completely lost, didn't know how to look after my son, didn't want to leave the house and it was when my husband booked me an overnight hotel break to catch up on some sleep that I realised I needed help.

'I found an incredible therapist, Nicki, who helped me to understand what triggered tearful moments and how to overcome them calmly. For my second baby realising an emotion isn’t a live emotion, and could be a trigger from a previous moment in my life is a good way to reconnect with the present, be calm and grateful and see the live moment for what it is. I have found this really helpful.

'I also think changing your surroundings can help, going out for walks, meeting friends for coffee and finding a new normal can help you settle into your new role. And take the pressure off – no one has it figured out straight away or expects you too so take every hour as it comes and tomorrow's always a new day.'

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