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Is this just the baby blues?

When are the baby blues not just baby blues?


We’ve already touched on Postpartum depression but let’s take a deeper look into how we distinguish between the baby blues and the onset of something else, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and more.


After giving birth, and more specifically in the first 72 hours, our bodies have a big shift in hormones that include a drop in estrogen and progesterone, and a rise in prolactin. While these are the more well known, they are not exclusive. Women also experience changes in their oxytocin and thyroid functioning which can greatly affect their cognitive functioning and mood. For example, hypothyroid can present as sluggish and depressive while hyperthyroid can present as anxious and manic. There are many other hormones that shift, so make sure to speak with your doctor for more in-depth information. After birth, our bodies are adjusting to a complete overhaul and every woman experiences this change differently.


For most women, the baby blues is a normal part of their postpartum experience. Tearfulness, reactivity, and exhaustion are all present in the face of their new life change. Many women can feel disconnected and sad, some women have small bouts of crying, and some women might experience very mild symptoms. 


Baby blues is normal (60-80% of new mothers universally) and will resolve on its own between a few days to a few weeks, but it is important to keep an eye on if the baby blues is transitioning to depression, especially if there is a history of previous mental health issues. Women with a previous history of major depression, anxiety, bipolar, or other mental health issues, are at a higher risk of developing issues or experiencing a relapse during postpartum. This is not to say it’s set in stone, but it is important for parents to be informed and prepared for all outcomes. 


Think of it his way, if we know we have diabetes, we don’t ignore this factor during pregnancy. So why would we ignore our depression and/or anxiety? Women may feel compelled to hide these issues for fear of stigma or associate this with being a bad mother but being the best parent means taking care of yourself first. You can’t be there for your child if you can’t be there for yourself.


As your postpartum journey continues, sit with your partner and talk about what’s really going on. Am I teary eyed and sad but experience moments of happiness? Do I feel completely hopeless or do I have glimpses of joy in the day? Baby blues can feel tough but as you progress, the frequency of good days should increase and frequency of bad days decrease. 


So how will depression evolve?


There are a few ways in which depressive symptoms may present, or ‘show up’. For instance, moms might experience a feeling of being overwhelmed and say something like, “I feel like I can’t cope”. Another mom might say “I’m just done. I’m too tired.”. As a friend and a spouse, hearing “I’m tired” is easy to gloss over. Take a minute to really understand whether you or your partner is really just tired from the baby feeding every two hours at night, or if the root of tired is tied into depression. If you can’t quite distinguish, this is a great opportunity to reach out to your doctor for help. 


Depression can also manifest in recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts.  For a new mom this can be a really jolting experience as it may be the first time one experiences these types of thoughts. Another way it can manifest is through a disruption in appetite and sleep. As athletes we know how important sleep is. Throw a baby in the mix and it’s even tougher. Add in depression and you have a recipe for decreased motivation to train or perform. This can start to morph into a lack of joy or interest in training all together. While some people from the outside might say “Well maybe she just wants to be a mom and not train anymore”, when really, the athlete is experiencing postpartum depression and needs different help. 


Another tidbit to keep in mind is that somatic symptoms often increase during the postpartum period. This means physical issues may pop up more frequently due to stress trying to manifest itself in different ways. 


So how might this affect an athlete? Well, there isn’t research out there, but one might suspect a possible increase in physical issues will interfere with training or performance. Again, this is not something set in stone but something to keep in the back of your mind if you find yourself as an athlete suddenly having more headaches, backaches, stomachaches, increased muscle fatigue, longer recovery times with smaller workouts, decreased motivation, and decreased mood. 


During this postpartum period, it’s important not only as a new mom but as an athlete to be in tune with your body. Make sure you get appropriate physicals and checkups, have blood panels run, and discuss possible mental health needs so that you can return to training and performance with a smoother transition. 


Remember, your body is going through some incredible changes and no matter how fit you were (or still are), hormonal changes and mental health issues don’t discriminate. It would be nice if we didn’t experience any baby blues, but most women will experience it in some form. Make sure you speak to your provider and advocate for your needs and have your voice heard. Remember, you are not alone in this journey.

Learn More

Learn more about the baby blues and depression during postpartum by clicking below.