Having a baby is no small feat – in fact, it is probably the biggest and most brilliant thing a human can and ever will do. But growing and birthing another human being is going to be an emotional process: pregnant women experience anything from joy to fear to sadness. And those emotions normally continue after the birth. But if feelings of sadness continue to persist and become so severe that they start interfering with everyday life this might indicate you are suffering from postpartum depression.
# What are the signs of postpartum depression (PPD)?
While numerous signs and symptoms of PPD can overlap with the “baby blues,” postpartum depression is much more serious. If you find that you have had prolonged symptoms following the birth of your baby, don’t hesitate to reach out to your support system (including a trusted medical professional!). Here is what to look for:
• Mood swings
• Crying jags
• Suicidal thoughts
• Inability to care for your new-born
• Withdrawal from your partner
• Inability to bond with your baby
• Out of control anxiety
• Unable to eat or sleep
• Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
Postpartum depression is nothing to feel ashamed about – a massive one in seven women will suffer from it – yet one in five women will keep quiet about their symptoms. And sadly, postpartum depression rarely disappears on its own. The good news is there are many ways to treat postpartum depression and come out smiling on the other side.
These methods range from simple changes in diet and exercise all the way to therapeutic treatments and medication.
1. Eating healthy meals
Adopting a healthy diet of nutritious foods might be the first step in your journey to overcoming postpartum depression. It is common knowledge that specific nutrients are needed during pregnancy, but did you know that these nutrients are also needed postpartum and without them you are more at risk of postpartum depression?
Some of the nutrients that are linked with alleviating postpartum depression are Vitamin D, B vitamins and fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. To ensure your diet consists of these nutrients build in lots of leafy greens, eggs, nuts, vegetables, dairy products, beef and poultry meat.
Try meal planning in advance and purchasing an abundance of healthy snacks - not only will this ease pressure in the kitchen but it will also provide you with the energy you need to take on new motherhood alongside battling postpartum depression.
2. Rest Well
How many times since falling pregnant have people told you to “sleep when the baby sleeps”? The trouble is, it is not that simple when it comes to postpartum depression.
Women living with postpartum depression often take longer to fall asleep and when they do sleep it is for less time than those without the condition. And in a vicious circle, they are more likely to feel depressed the less sleep they get. This means that it is important you build in good sleeping habits into your daily routine.
If you are raising your child with a partner, ask them to take on the night time shift. Do not worry if you are breast feeding – all you need is a breast pump and a bottle. Or if you are a single parent, reach out to external support (be that family or friends) to come and look after the baby while you take a much-needed nap.
Remember, in the early days your new-born is unlikely to sleep through the night – but this does change. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
3. Make Time for You
You might feel attached at the hip to your new-born. That’s completely natural - you have spent the last nine months sharing the same body! But do not forget that you are still an individual human being. A person, not just a mother.
And just like all other people, it is paramount that you are making time for yourself. Try to incorporate activities that you find relaxing into your day: whether it be listening to music, reading a book or having a warm bath.
Studies have shown that taking time off mothering duties and letting yourself indulge can improve your health and mood and be one of the best ways to relive postpartum depression. This ‘me time’ might just be the most important appointment in your calendar so make sure you stick to it!
4. Build up a support network
As a new mother it is easy to feel overwhelmed and not set aside the time for socializing that you did before welcoming your baby. But do not underestimate the benefits of talking.
Loneliness in new mothers has related to a whole host of physical impairments: from high blood pressure all the way to heart disease. But this isolation has also repeatedly been linked to postpartum depression.
Connecting with others, whether it be your partner, family and friends or new acquaintances from parenting groups, can boost your self-esteem and lift your depression. A study published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found that new mothers had lower levels of depression after speaking regularly with others. In particular, the women all benefited when they openly discussed how they were feeling. Remember, postpartum depression is very common: there are many who will have shared the same emotions, worries, and insecurities as you.
So, pick up the phone, arrange that coffee date or join that parenting group. It might just work wonders.
5. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself
Being a new mom is hard. Imagine the most active and emotionally exhausting job in the world with office hours of 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most employees would not accept that contract – but that is pretty much the deal new mothers get.
Alongside all of this you are constantly bombarded with messages and images in the media focused on how to be a “supermom”. The truth is, no mother is perfect. We all have days where we would gladly swap that diaper change or potty training for the morning commute to work in the city. You will have off days. Days where it feels like nothing is going right and your child is not behaving or progressing like other babies. But that is normal.
Remember, parenting is tough. Accept help from others when it is offered and do not feel ashamed about reaching out and asking others for help. Take up your mother-in-law on her offer of free babysitting. Let your partner or another trusted adult take the baby for an hour or two. You do not need to be mother of the year every day.
6. Exercise is key
After having a baby, the last thing any woman wants to do is start training for a marathon. And even if they did, long exercise sessions are often not possible as many mothers feel they cannot leave their babies for long periods of time.
But some exercise in your day is still important: research has continuously shown that it has an antidepressant effect on women who are suffering from postpartum depression while you will also benefit from the exposure to sunlight and fresh air. And the good news is there are easy ways of building exercise into your daily routine as a new mother.
Something as simple as taking the stroller out for a spin for at least 10 to 15 minutes per day has been shown to significantly ease postpartum depression. Or if you are looking for something a bit more out there, some gyms offer specialized postpartum classes that range from dance and spinning all the way to Pilates and yoga. If your gym doesn’t offer these classes, you can always purchase online videos that will talk you through the routines and allow you to work out in the comfort of your own home.
Exercising will also offer the added benefit of tiring you out – making it far easier to fall asleep at night!
7. Buying the right baby products
Life is made so much easier as a new mother if you purchase the right products. In a state of postpartum depression, you can often feel on edge and you would do anything to avoid your baby crying.
So why not steer clear of tantrums by ensuring the products you buy for your baby are putting its comfort first and foremost and invest in all-natural diaper rash oils. By being all-natural, most likely will not irritate your baby’s skin. Try the All-natural ALEYA Diaper Rash Oil.
8. Focus on bonding with your baby
As a mother suffering from postpartum depression, it can be extremely difficult to feel like you are forming an emotional bond with your child. Sometimes you might find it extremely hard to be loving and attentive to your baby when you feel so low.
But the good news is there are small and easy wins to help you to bond with your child. One example is breastfeeding - not only will you save a fortune in the weekly shop, but it will also build in a regular time for you and your baby to spend time together in close quarters. You could also start reading aloud to your baby. You do not need to worry about baby books just yet, your baby will feel soothed listening to whatever book you are reading (this also allows you an opportunity to pick up where you last left off in your favorite novel!).
Making an active effort to bond with your baby might seem like the hardest thing in the world sometimes. But in the long term it is to your benefit: not only will it work wonders for your baby but it will also release endorphins in your body that will make you feel happier and more confident as a mother.
If you have tried implementing lifestyle changes and sought support but have experienced no improvement, therapy or medication might be the next step.
9. Seeking out Therapeutic help
Psychotherapy allows mothers suffering from postpartum depression a platform to discuss their concerns, set manageable goals and learn new methods for responding to situations positively.
The main therapeutic routes available are cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.
The former will teach you how to break the cycle of unhelpful thinking that leads to negative behavior and find new ways of thinking that can help you behave in a more positive manner. Cognitive behavioral therapy can take place on a one to one basis or in a group session.
The latter involves talking to a therapist, identifying where the problems lie and learning how these problems are linked to your depression and how to overcome this.
To those mothers who might be worried at how therapy will slot into their already jam-packed timetable of being a new mother, guided self-help books or online courses are also available.
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Some new mothers might veer away from medication, but it can work as a lifesaver if your postpartum depression does not improve with other treatments.
There are a whole host of antidepressants that your doctor can prescribe to you based on your specific circumstances (many of which can be taken while breastfeeding).
These antidepressants work by balancing mood-altering chemicals in your brain and ease symptoms such as low moods, irritability, and sleepiness.
It is recommended that after you feel better to carry on taking the antidepressants for a further six months, however, with the correct medical expertise you can wean yourself off the medication and enjoy motherhood.