Is it the ‘baby blues’ or something more? When to seek help

Oct 5, 2023
BY Partum Health Care TEam
When to seek help

Pregnancy is a whirlwind of emotions – you’re laughing, you’re crying…maybe you peed a little…it’s a lot! But what comes after can be equally as rewarding, draining, and confusing. You may find yourself staring down at your little cherub at 3am wondering, “What am I even doing?” and plotting your escape. Whether it’s feeling disconnected from your baby, intrusive thoughts, or “mom rage”, pregnancy changes your body and mind.

One common sentiment expressed to struggling parents is, “It’s just the baby blues!” with the promise it’ll go away on its own soon. But what exactly are ‘the baby blues’? And how do you know if it’s something more? Let’s break down some common mental health concerns that parents experience during and after pregnancy.

The baby blues

Postpartum mood swings are a temporary emotional state that lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after birth. Likely caused by a surge of hormones combined with the lack of good sleep patterns, about 80% of birthing parents experience the baby blues after pregnancy. If you find yourself not being able to sleep when you have the magic opportunity to rest, or having a breakdown over a pair of mismatched socks, that could be a case of the baby blues. 

Symptoms include:

  • Lack of interest in things you once cared about
  • Extreme fatigue (beyond just lack of sleep from caring for a newborn)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt (feeling like you’re not a good enough parent)
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying spells

Though postpartum mood swings usually resolve themselves without intervention, you don’t have to go through them alone. A postpartum doula, mental health therapist, or support group can help you prepare for and manage those waves of emotions. If the ‘baby blues’ last longer than two weeks, it’s likely postpartum depression.

Perinatal depression

The window of time throughout pregnancy and after birth is called the “perinatal” period, and it’s possible to experience depression at any time during the perinatal period. Postpartum depression refers to depression specifically after pregnancy. 

Depression is the most common mental health condition experienced by new parents. If you already struggled with depression before getting pregnant, you’re more likely to experience it during and after pregnancy. BIPOC parents and those in low-income households are at even greater risk for postpartum depression.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Having a hard time feeling connected to your baby or pregnancy
  • Feeling irritable or angry for no clear reason
  • Fatigued, unable to sleep or rest even when you have the chance to
  • Withdrawn from your friends or family, avoiding gatherings or spending time with people, even if they’re supportive
  • Appetite or sleep changes
  • Lack of interest in things you used to care about
  • Feelings of extreme guilt or worthlessness, like you aren’t a good parent or you’re a failure at life
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Additional symptoms like anxiety, difficulty concentrating, or physical aches and pains

Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression doesn’t go away on its own. Finding the right support is crucial to your peace and overall wellness. Take some stress off your already tired (and probably spit-up stained!) shoulders by finding a qualified therapist to talk to.


While some anxiety is normal for pregnancy and bringing home a new bundle of joy, if it begins to affect your daily functioning or keeps you from enjoying this special time with your little one, that’s a sign something more is going on. Along with depression, perinatal anxiety is the most common mental health condition experienced by birthing parents.

Signs of perinatal anxiety:

  • Feeling constantly worried and checking on the baby
  • Afraid to leave the house or attend social gatherings
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Intrusive or racing thoughts you wish would go away and can’t control
  • Phobias about pregnancy, childbirth, or your baby’s health
  • Pulling away or avoiding things to do with your pregnancy or baby to avoid the triggers causing you distress
  • Physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, panic attacks, or trouble sleeping

The reality is, pregnancy can be hard on your mental health. It’s not all adorable Instagram photos or perfectly decorated nurseries. If you’re struggling with perinatal anxiety, all hope is not lost. It is treatable, and you’re not alone.

Maternal OCD

Maternal OCD is a specific type of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) that can occur during or after pregnancy. Like OCD, maternal OCD is characterized by repetitive intrusive thoughts and the repetitive behaviors you do to try to keep those thoughts at bay. With maternal OCD, those intrusive thoughts and behaviors are related to your baby. 

Common signs of maternal OCD:

  • Intrusive thoughts about hurting your baby or yourself, even though you have no desire to act on them
  • Intrusive sexual or aggressive thoughts, thinking about things that are contrary to your values or desires (aka things you’d never actually do)
  • Constant fear or worry about your baby’s health, germs, contamination, or that you’re going to mess up somehow and harm the baby (perfectionism)
  • Seeking reassurance from doctors or other professionals excessively because you worry you’ll make a mistake
  • Excessive cleaning, washing, organizing, ordering or arranging that goes beyond “nesting”
  • Repeatedly checking on the baby to make sure they’re okay, breathing, and safe – even if you just checked them a moment ago
  • Completing rituals like repeated prayers, counting, or repeating certain phrases to push away intrusive thoughts

Maternal OCD is triggered by the specific stresses and responsibilities of motherhood/parenthood. Having maternal OCD does not make you a bad person or a bad parent. Voicing those thoughts takes away some of their power, and helps you feel less alone in what you’re dealing with. (You’d be surprised how many parents have experienced the same thing!) The right kind of support – whether that’s therapy, medication, or both – can help you regain control of your life and thoughts.

Other conditions

For parents with existing mental health conditions like Bipolar Disorder and PTSD, the hormone roller coaster of pregnancy (and often, medication adjustment) brings a fresh wave of fears and challenges. Living with mental health conditions doesn’t take away your ability to  parent – it makes you human. A curated care team can help you show up for yourself and your baby, even when you feel like you’re (literally) losing your mind.

Next steps

It’s important to know that experiencing any of these is not your fault. If you’re not feeling like yourself, the first step should be to reach out to your OB or midwife. 

It’s no secret that maternal mental health is neglected in the U.S. We started Partum Health to change that, beginning with birthing parents right here in Chicago.

Every expecting and postpartum parent may benefit from establishing care. The USPSTF recommends that clinicians provide or refer pregnant and postpartum persons who are at increased risk of perinatal depression to counseling interventions. A preventative 15-minute intro call with a therapist can be helpful in identifying your needs.

If you’re interested in a discovery call with a Partum client care lead, call us at 877-381-5221 to get started. Let us take care of the whole you, on every step of your journey. 

If you need immediate help or are in a crisis, you can call the National Maternal Mental Health hotline any time at 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262).

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