The Baby Blues are one thing, Postpartum Depression is quite another. Although they share a lot of the same symptoms, the Baby Blues tend to dissipate within two weeks of giving birth. Postpartum Depression sticks around longer and can feel much more severe. So what is Postpartum Depression about, and how can you help yourself?
(I want to stress the importance of reaching out to your doctor or healthcare worker for help if you think you’re suffering from depression. This advice is not a substitute for proper medical advice.)
Postpartum Depression Symptoms
Around 15% of new mothers will experience Postpartum Depression. It has many symptoms and though a lot of them are the same as the Baby Blues, which is experienced by 80% of mothers, the symptoms of depression are more severe and long-lasting. Symptoms include:
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Mood Swings
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to care for baby
- Inability to bond
- Suicidal thoughts
- Becoming withdrawn
- Thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby
- Feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy
- Shame and guilt
If you’re deep in the throes of despair the last thing you probably want to do is try to help yourself, but there are things you can do to try to pull yourself out of that dark place.
Things You Can Do
1. Try to create a secure attachment with your baby
This can be hard when you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to bond but it’s so important for you and your baby. Putting the focus outside of your self can help with the way you feel. Try some skin on skin time, gently stroke him or just lay with him and look into his eyes. Breathe in his delicious baby smell, it doesn’t last forever.
Watch his facial expressions and body movements. Listen to the sounds he makes and the way he cries. All these things are clues to what he is trying to communicate, and in time you’ll be able to discern what he needs.
If you’re breastfeeding then offer the breast whenever the baby wants it. This can be hard as breastfeeding takes some getting used to and if you’re feeling irritable or anxious it may affect the let down of your milk.
I remember the feeling of the milk coming through the nipple was really irritating for me at first. It was almost like an itch that you can’t scratch. Sometimes it bothered me so much that I’d keep taking the baby off the breast but this just upset him and didn’t help the situation. In the end, I just let myself surrender to it instead of fighting it, and although the sensation didn’t disappear straight away, it definitely lessened.
Play with your baby. Make funny faces and silly voices. Be engaged when you are feeding and changing him. Use these times for bonding and don’t let yourself get distracted by your phone, the TV or other people.
A pet peeve of mine is to see mothers constantly on their phones when they’re with their baby. Don’t get me wrong, we all check our phones a lot nowadays, I know that. I just mean being on the phone the whole time while at the park or sitting in a cafe. Babies don’t understand why they can see you, you’re physically there, but are totally unresponsive. You’re not really there. It must be very confusing for them.
Secure attachments are formed gradually and continually. You’re not going to get it right 100% of the time, no one does. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. It’s a hard job with a steep learning curve but the rewards are so worth it. Just try to be focused and responsive. When you mess up, learn from it and try to do better the next time. Bonding is an ongoing process, try to relax and enjoy it.
2. Lean on your support network
“It takes a village to raise a child”. There’s no truer saying than that. Your partner, your parents, your family, your friends, they’re probably all chomping at the bit to get some baby time. Let them have it. Trust that your partner can take care of the baby while you catch up on some sleep or take a shower. Invite the in-laws over but ask them to bring dinner with them. Ask your friend if she’d mind popping the laundry in.
People are generally more than willing to help a new mum out. You don’t have to do it all alone. And most of it probably doesn’t even need to be done. Who cares if the house hasn’t been hoovered for a week, you’ve got more important things to worry about.
Don’t underestimate how healing a talk and a good cry to someone you trust can be. Just being heard, understood, and empathised with can work wonders for your spirit.
3. Don’t scrimp on self-care
Your baby needs you to be at your best. That means taking some time to care for yourself. Get some gentle exercise, a stroll outside in the fresh air is great for lifting your mood and it’s good to get out with the baby. A postpartum yoga class is healing for your mind and your body, and being with other women that are going through the same things you are can be really helpful.
Take some time to pamper yourself. A long, hot bath, meditation, a good book, your favourite film, whatever makes you feel good, do it.
Try to get as much sleep as you can. You’ve probably been told to sleep when baby sleeps but are you actually doing it? Try to take advantage in those early months when the baby is sleeping for around 16 hours a day. I found that I could fall asleep almost instantly during those times. Not sure if that’s a hormonal thing as it usually takes me a long time to get to sleep but I certainly made the most of it.
You might not feel like cooking but your diet is very important now, especially if you’re breastfeeding so try to enlist some helpers to make sure you’re eating well. A good idea is to stock up the freezer before your due date. Try to avoid all the usual baddies, fried food, sugar, etc. Get plenty of fresh fruit and veg, plenty of whole foods and plenty of water. You might want to try adding a probiotic to your diet too.
Natural Remedies For Postpartum Depression
Although further studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of the following remedies there may still be some value in trying them. Of course, they are no substitute for getting medical advice and you’ll want to speak to your doctor before trying any of them.
A lack of Omega-3 has been linked to depression so make sure you’re getting enough. Oily fish, seafood and flaxseed are all good sources, just remember to choose smaller fish to keep the mercury content low. Omega-3 is thought to work best when used alongside traditional antidepressants.
2. Vitamin B12
Most people with a mental disorder such as anxiety or depression also have a B12 deficiency. A B Complex supplement is the easiest way to make sure you’re getting yours.
3. St John’s Wort
This plant has been used to treat depression for a long time, although whether it’s effective for Postpartum Depression is yet to be established. It’s also been known to interact badly with other drugs so definitely get your doctor’s permission before trying this.
Traditionally an Eastern practice, acupuncture has recently gained more popularity in the West. Some say it’s effective for treating depression, others refute that. There’s no harm in trying it though. At the very least you may find it relaxing.
Most of the things on this list are good advice for all new mums. At a time when we really need to be feeling our best, we often forget all about ourselves in the busyness of looking after a newborn. You can’t just keep giving until you’re empty, you need to make sure you fill yourself up. It’s just as important for your baby as it is for you.
Remember though, if you or someone you love is showing signs of Postpartum Depression then it’s important to get medical advice as soon as possible. All the things above are to try alongside whatever your doctor advises. I’m not a doctor and don’t profess to know how best to treat depression, but I hope I can offer support to anyone who feels they need it. Please leave me a comment if you have anything to add.