By Susie Lee, AMFT
Women go through a lot physically and emotionally to have a baby, those nine months of growing a little one are no joke! Once the baby arrives the physical and emotional ups and downs continue. The extreme hormonal changes that happen after childbirth can cause what’s known now as the “baby blues” where women may struggle with feeling sad, low motivation, and lack of interest in things they normally like to do. These symptoms tend to pass quickly and are often not too extreme. However, many women experience what is considered postpartum depression, where their symptoms last much longer, interrupt their daily routine, and affect their relationship with their partners, baby, and those around them.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can vary from person to person and be more or less extreme depending on the individual. These symptoms include feeling down and depressed, loss if interest in activities they usually enjoy, over or under eating, changes in sleep patterns, withdrawing from family and friends, extreme fatigue, and intense and or sudden feelings of anger or irritability. Symptoms can start within a few days to weeks after childbirth, but sometimes don’t begin until months after the baby is born.
What causes postpartum depression?
Bringing home a newborn is a life cycle event that is usually considered joyous and one we often look forward to, however, as with any life cycle change, there are stressful aspects that are often glossed over. Such as the hormonal changes that come after childbirth and with breastfeeding, the emotional stressors of adjusting to life with a newborn, the need to adjust the partner relationship, adjusting to being a parent, losing sleep, caring for a completely helpless newborn, feelings of inadequacy or failure, and wondering if you even know what you’re doing. There is not one thing that can pinpoint whether or not you will experience postpartum depression, but there are some things that are related to a higher risk for postpartum depression. These include having a personal or family history of depression or other mental health conditions, having a baby with special needs or a baby that is challenging to care for, coinciding emotional stressors (death of a loved one, illness in the family, financial strain, losing a job, etc.), lack of support from your partner and/or a lack of a strong social support network. While these factors may predispose some women to experience PPD, any women can find themselves experiencing postpartum depression and it’s important to take any concerns you or others have seriously.
How is postpartum depression treated?
The first step to treating postpartum depression is talking about it, reach out to family, friends, your obstetrician or midwife, your pediatrician or family doctor, a therapist, or other healthcare professional. Often, symptoms of PPD will go away quickly with the help of talk therapy, antidepressant medications, or a combination of the two. There are also lifestyle changes that can help reduce or prevent the symptoms of postpartum depression, these include:
- Getting enough sleep (easier said than done with a newborn!)
- Finding time to exercise in some way (it doesn’t have to be intense, some pelvic floor movements or a simple walk around the block can be enough)
- Reaching out to your support system (talk to someone other than your baby)
- Eating regularly and eating healthy, nourishing foods (with some treats as well! Keep it balanced by not restricting or overindulging)
- Asking for others to watch your child so you can take a much needed break (and maybe do some of the things on this list)
- Join a support group for new moms or reach out to others who also have a newborn
- Get out of the house when possible, whether with your newborn or on your own (preferably a little of both)
- Have date nights with your spouse
- Put effort into maintaining hobbies from before your baby was born
Adjusting to motherhood can be overwhelming and stressful at times. As you learn to navigate your new role, balancing care for yourself and an infant (and possibly other children and family members) you may find yourself feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, guilty, ashamed, worried, over needed, or run down. It is important to know that postpartum depression is not your fault and you are not alone.
Taking care of yourself will make you a better mom
Remember, you’re adding the title of mother to your resume, but you’re also still you, and you need to take care of yourself as well. Motherhood is hard, constant work and it’s easy to go into “autopilot” by focusing on your newborn. However, our ability to care for our children and enjoy motherhood is greatly impacted by our ability to take care of ourselves. It’s often easy to remember this while we’re pregnant, after all, we’re literally growing a baby inside our bodies and we need to take care of ourselves to get them here safely. It’s easy to lose sight of this once the baby is no longer a part of your body, but the need to take care of yourself to take care of your child is still there. There are three very important things to remember as you transition into motherhood, for the first time or the tenth time:
It is not selfish to take time for yourself. In fact, it’s essential. You’ll be far more equipped to be the best mother you can be if you remain connected to who you are and take care of your own needs.
Be true to what your gut tells you. People are always going to have an opinion on what you’re doing and how you’re taking on motherhood. While it’s good to consider the advice others give, remember, YOU are the mother of your child and you get the final say. Don’t feel guilty for not following everyone’s advice or doing things a little differently than your mother/mother in law/friend/neighbor/random person at Walmart or on the internet thinks you should.
Your children will grow up watching you and they are more likely to follow your example than your advice. If you don’t give yourself the love and attention you need and deserve, how can you expect your kids to know how to give themselves the love and attention they deserve?