This is a contribution from the Association for Postnatal Illness. This is a UK registered charity, which provides support to mothers suffering from the various types of postnatal illness. It is also aimed at increasing public awareness of the illness, and encourages research into the subject. Its services are free and contact details are provided at the end of this section.
What are "baby blues" and how common is the problem?
This is the state of being emotional and upset, sometimes crying for no apparent reason. Many women experience this at around three to four days after delivery. It affects up to 50% of all mothers, that is, one in two. It is therefore a very common problem.
Some mothers with the "blues" will find that minor problems make them worry a great deal. Sometimes a mother feels just unwell with ill-defined pain. She tends to feel tired and lethargic most of the time. She may have difficulty sleeping.
What might be the causes of the "blues"?
This is thought to be a combination of factors, some biological and some psychological (emotional). A change in the hormone levels is thought to be contributory. Some hormones are at very high levels during pregnancy and once delivery has taken place, this is no longer necessary and those levels fall quite sharply.
On the psychological front, it is true that many mothers are unprepared for the extreme weariness which often follows birth. There is the physical exertion of birth itself, which should ideally be followed by rest and quiet. Few mothers get either. The demands of the newborn ensure that both are at a premium. This may be made worse if the baby has even a slight health problem, such as mild jaundice or feeding difficulties. These cause a great deal of anxiety. These various factors combine to produce this very common postnatal problem.
Can anything be done to help a mother with the "blues"?
Support will be very important. An affected mother needs to be sympathetically reassured, especially if there is an added worry about the baby, who might have a minor problem that will clear up in a matter of days.
Rest will be important and as much practical help as possible should be given to allow her this. If such a mother wants to cry, she should be allowed to and the last thing she needs is to be told that she should "pull herself together". Affected mothers are often over-sensitive about what is said to them and therefore tact and empathy will be required on the part of medical staff, other care-givers and family and friends.
How long should one expect the "blues" to last for?
They should not last more than a few days. In less than a week, these feelings start to fade and continue to do so before disappearing altogether, a few days later. Any persistence of such feelings should be treated more seriously because it could mean that the mother is suffering from a more serious form of postnatal illness, namely depression.
How common is postnatal depression?
It is estimated that a 10th of all newly delivered mothers are affected by depression to varying degrees. It tends to start after the mother has left hospital, normally within the first few weeks, but occasionally it manifests itself much later.