The Current

Baby blues vs. postpartum depression: How can new parents tell the difference?

On Monday, we heard the stories of mothers who suffered the isolation and agony of postpartum depression. We continue the discussion with a doctor who specializes in the condition, and ask what needs to be done to help new parents receive the treatment they need.

Dr. Simone Vigod, a psychiatrist who researches postpartum mental health, unpacks the nuanced issue

Frequent crying, anxiety, irritability: at what point should a new parent ask for professional help? (Shutterstock)

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How can a new parent differentiate between the "baby blues" or more severe postpartum depression?

The difference between the two conditions may seem stark on paper, but the diagnostic process can be much trickier in real life, Dr. Simone Vigod told Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current.

"It's those first few weeks that are really confusing in terms of how do we know this won't improve on its own or whether this is something that requires treatment," said Vigod, who is chief of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital in Toronto

Postpartum depression is less common than the baby blues but more serious, affecting roughly 10 to 15 per cent of new mothers in Canada, according to a 2011 study in the journal BMC Public Health.

The symptoms, unlike baby blues, are not likely to go away on their own.

Vigod said that parents unsure about which of the two they may be experiencing should ask the following questions: 

  • When the baby sleeps, can you sleep? If the answer is no because you're overwhelmed by thoughts that keep you up, this could require treatment.
  • Are you able to shake off intrusive thoughts about your baby's safety? If not, and the thoughts begin to blend with your sense of reality, that's another sign that what you're experiencing isn't just baby blues
Dr. Simone Vigod, head psychiatrist with Women's College Hospital, talks about her involvement in a new study that looks at the genetic links in postpartum depression. 1:31

Vigod expressed concern over the story of Teresa Wong, who said a doctor dismissed her symptoms as the baby blues without looking deeper into the issue.

"I told [my doctor] that I thought I might be depressed and she said 'No, no, you've just got the baby blues and what you really need to do is go out for more walks and get some sunshine and you'll be fine,'" Wong said Monday on The Current.

Wong recently published a book about her bout with debilitating postpartum depression, titled Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression.

Baby blues generally only lasts for about a month, Vigod explained.

Any longer than that and you should talk to your doctor, she said, as it could be a sign of postpartum depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder

"The story, or a variant of it, happens so often — and yet women feel that they're alone," Vigod said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact any of the people or organizations listed here, or go to a mental health walk-in clinic in your area. If the situation is urgent, go to the hospital emergency department.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Produced by Alison Masemann.


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