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When TV personality/actress Vanessa Lachey revealed that she struggled with the “baby blues” after giving birth to her son, Camden, last September, a lot of people were confused — so much so that she issued a “clarification” a few days later:
“Several of you have asked about the difference between Baby Blues (what I had after having Cam) and Postpartum Depression,” she wrote on her website, before going on to explain that 70-80 percent of new moms are affected by the baby blues, while only 10-20 percent suffer from postpartum depression, which, as she puts it, usually “lasts much longer than a few weeks with much more intense emotions.”
So if at least 70 percent of new moms suffer from the baby blues—a normal, short-lived period of feeling sad, weepy or otherwise moody that is triggered by hormonal changes after giving birth—why do we hear so little about them?
Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., Associate Professor and Director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program, UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders, thinks there’s still a stigma attached to admitting that you’re feeling sad after you’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby.
“There’s societal pressure to feel happy and blissful, so women don’t talk about [the baby blues]. There’s enormous guilt and shame,” attached to the experience, Meltzer-Brody says.
But there shouldn’t be. Levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone are sky-high during pregnancy—higher than they will ever be at any other time in a woman’s life—and after delivery of the baby and the placenta, they plummet. This neurobiological process triggers the baby blues.
Plus, especially for first-time moms, you’ve just been through the birth process, which is both profound and exhausting—and you’ve just been handed a brand-new baby to take care of, manual not included, Meltzer-Brody explains. Other factors could make you even more likely to experience postpartum mood changes, such as a traumatic birth, if you didn’t go into labor (as in a planned c-section or induction), if you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, whether you have a personal/family history depression and how much social support you have (or don’t have) at home.
But isn’t being a new mom supposed to be a joyful state like no other? In fact, isn’t it supposed to be the happiest time of your life? While there’s no doubt that giving birth and meeting your newborn is one of the most special and amazing times in a woman’s life, Meltzer-Brody thinks these claims of being “blissed out” are exaggerated for most people.
“The vast majority of women find both the birth and the transition to motherhood to be challenging. Certainly there’s lots of joy and it’s a time of great happiness, but it’s really difficult the first few weeks,” she says.
Count Jennifer Lopez in that "vast majority." The superstar revealed last year that she suffered from the baby blues about a week after giving birth to her twins, Max and Emme, in 2008.