So many mothers are taken aback by the emotional rollercoaster of childbirth despite knowing that the first weeks after birth are extremely stressful and despite wanting to have a child for decades. If you’re one of them, you’re not alone. One in seven women in the US experience postpartum depression as a result of hormonal and physical changes and of the sudden lifestyle alterations that come with having a child. Sleep deprivation and the immense responsibility of looking after a newborn can take their toll on the strongest women, leading to mood swings, anxiety, sadness and episodes of crying, all of which can take away from the beauty of motherhood, affect your mental health or prevent you from forming a connection with your child.
Do you have the baby blues or postpartum depression?
Immediately after childbirth, it’s normal to feel exhausted, anxious, confused and fragile. These are symptoms that most new moms experience and you can sum them up in one term – the baby blues. They get worse about a week after giving birth and start to go away in two weeks. During this time, the change in hormones can lead to insomnia and irritability, which, coupled with all the responsibilities of being a new mom, could make you want to isolate yourself or burst into tears for no apparent reason. However, this is where the similarities between the baby blues and postpartum depression stop. If the baby blues go away after a couple of weeks, postpartum depression lasts longer and is much more intense, to the point where it becomes crippling and prevents you from functioning normally. It also stands out through three main symptoms:
- Being unable to connect with your baby and withdrawal from your partner
- Inability to rest or eat properly
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or self-harm
Risk factors for postpartum depression include a history of depression or mood swings prior to pregnancy, lack of emotional support from the family or financial troubles.
Dealing with postpartum depression
Because postpartum depression is quite common, many women make the mistake of ignoring its symptoms and waiting for it to go away on its own. However, ignoring the signs can do more harm than good and waiting it out can damage both your health and connection with your child.
Make time for yourself
Having some quality “me time” can improve the symptoms of postpartum depression and help you feel better. As hectic as your schedule might seem after birth, try to create time for yourself for about a couple of hours per week and get away from all the stress and responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to listen to your needs and ask your spouse, parents or in-laws to look after your child so you can unwind. Remember that your child needs you healthy and well-rested, so try to get at least four hours of sleep every night and nap whenever possible during the day.
Talk about your feelings
When dealing with postpartum depression, it can be tempting to bottle up your feelings and isolate yourself from your spouse and family, but this only makes symptoms worse. Instead, try to open up to your loved ones and describe what you are going through. If you have friends who are also mothers, talk to them and you may be surprised to discover that they experienced similar feelings too. Or, if you feel that your family doesn’t offer you enough emotional support, look for a spiritual healer to achieve harmony, talk to a therapist, meditate or join support groups for new moms.
If you find the time, try to do light workouts, because it was proven to have an important role in treating postpartum depression and don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
Things to avoid
Some things can aggravate postpartum depression or anxiety symptoms and should be best avoided until you overcome this tricky period of your life. For example, if you love horror movies or scary dramas, you might want to skip them after childbirth. In the weeks following childbirth, your brain is more suggestible and any shocking scenes you watch could stick with you and give you anxiety.
Also, if you love being organized and plan everything down to the letter, you should try to avoid overscheduling during the post-partum period. You will need a while for things to settle down and get back to your routine, so the fewer plans you make, the less you’ll beat yourself up for not sticking to them. Take things slow, discover your new rhythm and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Speaking of beating yourself up, don’t let your own thoughts sabotage you. The postpartum period is tough on everyone and you might find yourself believing things that aren’t true. Many new moms describe how after giving birth they felt like they’re not worth it or that they aren’t good mothers, but these are only symptoms of postpartum depression and you shouldn’t dwell on them.
When to seek professional help
Not all women experience postpartum depression in the same way and the severity of symptoms can vary from one mother to the other. If you’re still experiencing negative thoughts in spite of family support and you can’t adapt to your new life, it’s best to contact your doctor, who can suggest a form of therapy or medication for your case.