Postpartum depression, anxiety, and baby blues: What’s the difference?
Published on 29 August 2022
Pregnancy and childbirth are some of the most significant events in a mother’s life. Understandably, these experiences can also cause much anxiety. The weight of responsibility and the life-changing nature of parenthood is undeniably stressful – and perfectly normal.
In fact, said Dr Cornelia Chee, Head & Senior Consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Hospital (NUH), a low mood is a natural phenomenon after giving birth. “Baby blues are related to changes in hormones immediately post-delivery,” she said, “and may include some anxiety symptoms, easy tearfulness, and a transient low mood."
“But these should resolve within two weeks of the birth,” she added.
Postpartum anxiety is a little different. Some common symptoms include overwhelming anxiety, an inability to relax, and hyper-alertness. Sometimes there may be panic attacks. These attacks are episodes of intense anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms such as a rapidly beating heart, feelings of doom, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
“Anxiety that goes on for long enough can lead to depression, in which the core symptoms are a persistent low mood and a lack of interest or pleasure,” Dr Chee explained.
How common is postpartum anxiety, and who is at risk?
While there are no local studies, Dr Chee noted that overseas studies estimate it to affect between 10% to 15% of women who have just given birth, which makes it at least as common as postpartum depression. “Women who have a personal or family history of anxiety disorders; women who have personality traits [related to] needing a lot of control; and those who don’t tolerate uncertainty well – they may be at higher risk of postpartum anxiety,” she added.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression that carry on for longer than the two weeks after birth, it is important to seek help and get a diagnosis. The condition can be treated with various therapies, including peer support.
The Women's Emotional Health Service at NUH provides personalised and holistic emotional care and support for women during pregnancy and the first postnatal year. Women experiencing postnatal anxiety or depression may book an appointment for an assessment and a customised management plan that includes lifestyle modifications, advice, and medications and therapy that can be very helpful in alleviating the condition.
Ultimately, it is important to know that postpartum anxiety and depression can affect anyone – and it is important to seek help sooner rather than later.
In consultation with Dr Cornelia Chee, Head & Senior Consultant, Department of Psychological Medicine, NUH.
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