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The Trouble With The Baby Blues

posted Aug 11, 2014, 8:10 AM by AndrewandSarah Witzel

The “Baby Blues” is the phrase referring to the transient moodiness and tearfulness experiencing by the majority of new mothers in Western culture. It resolves within 2-3 weeks (symptoms that last past this time frame would be categorized as a postpartum mood disorder) and does not require treatment. So if it’s normal, what’s the trouble with the baby blues? I have a few issues!

The name needs to change - All other post-childbirth symptoms have medical, or at least common-sense names ex. lochia, afterpains, etc. In contrast, the “baby blues” sounds like a euphemism, or a phrase from a children’s book. This may seem like a nitpicky detail, but I think using a phrase that seems trivial and silly to describe the mental health and emotions of postpartum women is a gateway to not taking the issue of postpartum mental health seriously.

“Oh, it’s just the blues” - I believe that health care providers, as well as family and friends, are likely to dismiss all mental health symptoms experienced in the early weeks as “just the blues.” It is important to note that symptoms of postpartum psychosis (hallucinations, delusions, thoughts of suicide or harming herself or the baby) can manifest as early as the first week after childbirth, and should never be ignored. Also, women who experience severe baby blues are more likely to go on to experience postpartum depression.

It is not a universal phenomenon - I was personally surprised to find out that while 50-85% of women in Western societies experience the baby blues, it does not typically occur in traditional, rural cultures such as those found in South America, India, and China. If the baby blues can be prevented by properly caring for the new mother and managing the postpartum period properly, is it really “normal”? This data implies that rather than being a natural consequence of childbirth, the baby blues is a first-world medical problem, similar to our high incidence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.