Postpartum depression (PPD) is a very real problem. Most new moms will experience some mood changes, but around 15% of new moms will have PPD. Hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep and stress can make this an incredibly difficult time. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, excessive crying, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of harming yourself or others please get help now. There really are ways to get through this period and it will get better. Your body will be in balance again, you (and your baby) will sleep again, and your stress will be more manageable once these other things happen.
Is postpartum depression preventable? Yes and no. You can’t prevent the hormone changes (although these can be treated), but you can reduce the stressors that contribute to PPD.
Before your due date:
Get a support system in place. If friends or family offer to help put them on a schedule. Who can bring meals? Who can relieve you for an afternoon nap? Is there someone who can stay the night? Good nutrition and sleep are two things we missed the most after our first daughter was born.
If you and your partner have problems before your baby is born they are likely to get worse after. Get help now so you will be better prepared to work as a team when your baby arrives.
Search for parent participation classes, new parent groups, or exercise classes with childcare options now. If your city or town has a department of recreation these options may be very reasonably priced.
Find a lactation support group if you plan to breastfeed.
If you have been on medication for anxiety and depression in the past, discuss this with your midwife or obstetrician. There are safe options to use when breastfeeding as well.
Once baby is born:
Get outside. There is no reason to stay indoors with your new baby. If it is cold make sure to dress her appropriately. If it is hot, stay in the shade. Try to keep your newborn out of direct sunlight and use sunscreen on her hands or any parts of her body that can’t be covered by clothing, or a hat. Sunscreen is safe on a newborn and there are good natural options like zinc that rarely cause skin irritation.
Meet regularly with other new parents. You are all going to have good and bad days. Having the support of others who have new babies is vital.
Exercise. You can walk or hike with your baby and you will both be happier. Some babies love a stroller, others want to be close to you in a wrap or carrier. Often a good walk is more refreshing and therapeutic than a nap (especially when your baby is fussing and you couldn’t sleep anyway!). Many gyms and yoga classes offer childcare as well. Find out how old your baby has to be before signing up. Many times they will require that he has had his first set of vaccinations (at 2 months).
Make time for yourself and time alone with your partner. This could mean just 15 minutes on the front porch or getting a friend to watch your baby so you can go for a walk together. We often focus so much on our new babies that we forget our own needs and the needs of our partner. Happier parents make for happier babies. You have to take care of yourself.
If you are not doing well, call for help. Keep a phone list ready for a friend, family member, counselor, physician, or phone help line to call in case you are having a tough time. No one can get through this alone.
I was very lucky and started hiking every week with a great group of women when my firstborn was 6 weeks old. Sometimes we hiked, sometimes it was a stroller walk, and sometimes if we were feeling less energetic (or the weather was bad) we met at a coffee shop. Once a week I was able to get outdoors, exercise, and enjoy time with new friends. These women became my lifeline. Two summers ago, as our children were growing and our schedules became increasingly hectic, we stopped meeting regularly. Then last year one of these friends lost her husband unexpectedly. Tragedy has a way of resetting our priorities. We have since renewed our commitment to each other (and therefore renewed our commitment to ourselves). We hike every week again (now with a 35lb toddler on my back). It has been 5 years now and I consider these women family.
Postpartum Support International
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
24/7 hotline 1-800-273-8255
Are there any activities you do or tips you were given that have helped you with your emotional and physical well being as a new parent?