It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. Yes, it’s a famous Charles Dickens line — but it’s also how up to 80 percent of moms of new babies feel for a few days or weeks after childbirth. 

The “down” feelings many moms experience postpartum are often aptly called the "baby blues,” which can bring on unexpected feelings of sadness (aka “the blues”), irritability, bouts of crying, restlessness, and even anxiety. They also can appropriately appear out of the blue.

Those sad, in-the-dumps moods can be especially disconcerting to moms who have recently given birth because having a baby is supposed to make you happy, not miserable, right? 

Take heart, and know that while the baby blues aren’t much fun, they’re often quite temporary, which means you’ll soon be back to normal and ready to face the day (and your baby!) with a smile.

What are the baby blues?

The baby blues, also known as the postpartum blues, are temporary mood swings and feelings of sadness that many women experience in the early weeks after giving birth.[1] 

This blue mood tends to kick in around day two or three postpartum and can last for a few days or weeks. 

But there’s good news: The baby blues often go away on their own, without any special treatment, intervention or medication.[2]

What are the symptoms of the baby blues? 

Baby blues symptoms may include one or more of the following:[3]

  • Sadness
  • Moodiness
  • Anxiety
  • Crying spells
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling overwhelmed by baby tasks
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

What causes the baby blues? 

It's easy to understand why the baby blues can crop up if you step back and take a look at what's going on in the days after you give birth. Here are some common causes of the baby blues:

  • Changes in hormone levels. Estrogen and progesterone drop after childbirth, leading to mood swings.
  • The intensity of labor, delivery and life with a new baby. The physically and emotionally challenging nature of labor and of your homecoming with baby — including those round-the-clock feedings and diaper changes — can make anyone feel overwhelmed.
  • Unexpected feelings when you first see your baby. You might be struggling with mixed emotions about your new role as a parent and caring for your baby, including fear, worry and guilt.
  • Sleep deprivation. New babies are up every few hours or more frequently and require a lot of feedings and care, meaning you're probably not getting much sleep. That can lead to feeling down, emotional or anxious.
  • Feeding issues. Sore nipples, engorgementlatching trouble, and other common bumps in the breastfeeding road can make the first few weeks postpartum more stressful if you’re nursing, as can mixed feelings about bottle-feeding.
  • Relationship struggles. Having a new baby at home is bound to change some things about your relationship with your partner, if you have one, and put added stress on the relationship as you adjust.

With this laundry list of new parent challenges (and don't even mention the pile of laundry!), it's no wonder you might be feeling a little blue.

How are the baby blues different from postpartum depression (PPD)?

To tell the difference between the baby blues and the more serious mood disorder postpartum depression, look for distinctions in the severity of your feelings and how long they last.

  • The baby blues:  If you have the baby blues, you’ll likely feel sad, worried and tired, but the symptoms will be on the milder side (so you will likely perk up a bit after a nap, a walk or talking with a friend). These blue feelings tend to subside in two weeks without treatment.
  • Postpartum depression: A case of PPD is a possibility if your teary days stretch longer than two weeks or you feel extremely anxious or deeply depressed. PPD is a serious mood disorder and more intense than the baby blues, meaning it generally requires treatment in the form of medication, therapy, or a combination of the two to help you feel like your old self again.

What are some ways to manage the baby blues?

Keep in mind that the baby blues will likely fade in the first few weeks as you adjust to life with a new baby and get more rest. 

In the meantime, here are some tips to help lift you out of a postpartum slump:

  • Lower the bar. Remember, you won’t be overwhelmed forever (or even for that long). After a couple of weeks, you're likely to feel much more comfortable with your new-baby routine. For now, lower your expectations — and then lower them some more. Make this your mantra (even after you've become a pro): There's no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect baby.
  • Don't go it alone. Trying to deal with a crying newborn, a pile of spit-up-stained laundry, and a sink full of dirty dishes all by yourself is stressful, especially if you add in another spotty night’s sleep. The fix? Ask for support from your partner, parents, babysitters, neighbors, other relatives or friends.
  • Treat yourself. Watch a movie at home after baby’s bedtime, have dinner with your partner (even if you just order in and light some candles), get a quick manicure, or take a bath. Try to make yourself, and not baby care or housework, a priority once in a while. You deserve it!
  • Leave the house. It's amazing what a change of scenery and some fresh air can do for your state of mind. Plan an outing at least once a day: Take your baby to the park or go for a walk outside with friends (and if your friends are also new moms, you can swap sob stories — and then laugh!).
  • Don’t forget to eat. Moms of new babies are often too busy feeding their little bundles to feed themselves properly — which can lower blood sugar and cause a dip in energy levels (and moods).  To stay on a more even keel, keep healthy snacks handy (cheese sticks, veggies, fruit, cereal, trail mix) and try to eat three solid meals plus a couple of snacks a day.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is key and can keep you feeling more upbeat. Stash a water bottle or flavored seltzer where you nurse, burp or rock your baby. But ease up on alcohol, as it can dry you out and affect your sleep and mood. Plus, heavy drinking and baby care don’t mix.
  • Cry — and laugh. If you need a good cry, go for it. But when you're done, turn on your favorite sitcom or listen to a comedian you like for a good laugh. You know what they say: Laughter is the best medicine.

Still blue no matter what you try? Keep reminding yourself that you'll likely outgrow this phase within a few weeks — most moms do. And if feelings of depression persist or worsen, make an appointment to speak with your practitioner about your symptoms.

When to talk to your doctor about the baby blues 

Screening for depression should happen as part of your regular pregnancy and postpartum health care appointments, so your doctor and your child's pediatrician should be checking in at regular intervals to assess your mood. 

But you can — and should — talk with your doctor at any point, especially if you’re feeling down.

Remember that you're not alone. Being a new parent is hard work, and the baby blues are very common. Reach out for help so you can feel better fast.