Giving birth is no joke. In fact, it’s the ultimate IYKYK moment. And, while pregnancy, labor, and delivery are all feats of strength in their own rite, postpartum presents its own challenges. When the adrenaline and oxytocin euphoria start to subside, many women experience what is commonly called “baby blues.” It’s usually characterized as a period that includes mood swings, crying spells, and difficulty sleeping. In most cases, it usually only lasts for up to two weeks. However, many mothers experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression called postpartum depression (PPD).
PPD is a serious mental health issue that includes symptoms like excessive crying, feeling disconnected from your baby, feeling incompetent as a mother, overwhelming loss of energy, and severe anxiety and panic attacks. PPD is experienced by millions of women across the world, even though it’s only beginning to be destigmatized. There's this kind of myth that women couldn't possibly be depressed during pregnancy, because it’s such a happy time. The reality is that a lot of women struggle with anxiety and depression during pregnancy as well as during the postpartum period. In fact, an estimated one in seven women experiences depression during or after pregnancy.
The good news is that there are many resources. It can be particularly challenging to tackle PPD given the situation, but there are steps you can take to deal with it.
Focus on self-care
Taking good care of yourself is perhaps one of the best things you can do for your baby. As we mentioned in our 'Postpartum Care: Caring for Your Body After Giving Birth' post, you will only be able to give your baby the best care possible if you're in a positive state. Most of your attention will be focused on your new baby, but you’re still in recovery and are deserving of attention as well.
Self-care is key. Now, we aren't talking about fancy pedicures or getaways. When we say self-care, we mean the absolute basics: diet, hydration, exercise, sleep and social support.
They might sound simplistic, but says they have been shown to improve mental health symptoms by improving your overall health, so you can cope better with the stress of taking care of a newborn.
Make sure you're eating regularly and hydrating
So many women forget to eat because they are breastfeeding round the clock. Have your partner set up snack stations so that when you’re breastfeeding, you can eat a granola bar and grab a drink.
Take a break every day
Getting a break from the baby regularly is key for women with depression and women without depression. And, so arranging family support for that or social support for that is really important. Get your partner or a relative to keep an eye on the baby, or if you can afford it, hire a babysitter. Even leaving the house for a coffee or Target run by yourself can make all the difference.
Research shows that chronic sleep deprivation increases one's risk of all kinds of mental health symptoms. So, catch up on sleep, and sleep when the baby is sleeping. That means, when the baby's taking a nap, that's not the time to do the laundry. It’s time to sleep. Also consider sleeping in a different room than the baby, so you aren't waking up every time you hear the baby move.
Studies show that exercise improves mental health symptoms. So, build simple exercises into your daily routine. This doesn't require a new gym membership or a yoga class. Start with walks with your baby in your neighborhood. That totally counts!
Seek professional help
When deep into postpartum depression, women often find it difficult to enlist the help of a professional, as the fear of being judged keeps them silent. Some might not even know that there is something going on with them. Screening for postpartum depression typically occurs at the standard four to six-week postpartum visit, but according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as many as 40% of women fail to attend a single one.
The good news is that today’s nurses in this field are fully equipped to deal with such issues. The Online Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Maryville University shows how nurses in this field of expertise specialize in both pediatric and mental health. And coupled with the rise of telemedicine technology mothers can access these nurses without the need to leave their homes. Alongside nurses, Time Magazine reports that apps like the Maven Clinic allow for easy access to a whole team of care specialists and mental health professionals, and moms can work together with them to flag and solve issues. This way, you no longer have to worry about scheduling an appointment, as help is quite literally right at your fingertips.
Talk therapy and or medication might be the right choice to help you through this time. There are plenty of breastfeeding friendly medications, and your doctor can help determine the safest and most effective treatment for you.
Reach for social support
Social support is known to help in recovering from mental illness and improve one's sense of well-being. And, it is particularly important for mothers struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. Because so many women experience this, meeting other moms going through something similar can be really cathartic and supportive.
Having a support network to rely on from time to time is important. The New York Times' piece on postpartum depression suggests that if you have the option, you should ask friends and family to lend a helping hand, or ask your partner to take on additional responsibilities. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that a lack of social support from others only increases the risk of PPD. When you have people to fall back on, you'll have extra time to take care of yourself. You'll have the luxury of exercising, have time with friends away from the baby, and get the much-needed sleep to recharge your body and mind.
If you're struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, remember you're not alone, that help is available and you can recover. The path to recovery might be slightly different for every woman, but the main thing you need is support from your belly to your brain.