Tips for Reducing the Risk for Postpartum Depression (article featured in The Tennessean)
Women often talk about experiencing the “baby blues” following pregnancy, but this term is often misused and can minimize the severity of post partum depression. Because women hear that feeling “blue” is a normal part of becoming a new mom, they sometimes underestimate the implications of the emotions that they are experiencing. Ultimately, any prolonged feelings of sadness following the birth of a child should be considered a sign that depression could ensue. This does not necessarily mean that you need immediate intervention when you’ve been feeling sad for a day or two, or on occasion when you’ve had very little sleep. However, if the sadness continues or increases, don’t assume that the feeling will subside on its own over time.
Often, there is a need for treatment and a lifestyle change in order to promote recovery from post partum depression. There are ways of reducing risk and increasing the likelihood of positive postnatal adjustment. And, while it is important to prepare for motherhood by making these adjustments, there is also a biological component that may play be playing a part in the symptoms of depression. Because of the biological component, in some cases, even with a great deal of preparation and planning, post partum depression is still likely to occur. Listed here are ways of reducing the risk of post partum depression and caring for yourself should post partum depression develop.
Have realistic expectations about motherhood. Society, social media, and fear of failure often lead women to believe that they should be extraordinary mothers with few flaws. The truth is, being a new mom is extremely difficult. New motherhood includes physical trauma from childbirth, deprivation of sleep, fluctuating hormones, loss of independence, changes in your body that affect self-esteem, etc. Sometimes women idealize what life will be like with a new baby and feel disappointed in themselves when they aren’t euphoric and blissful following childbirth. Remind yourself that, while having a newborn is a special time, it is also a very trying one.
Take on fewer responsibilities. Sometimes women, especially successful high-achievers, feel obligated to carry on life as it was prior to having a baby. They feel compelled, or obligated, to continue to be successful and capable. The reality is that, when you have a baby, it is extremely difficult and oftentimes unhealthy to successfully commit to all of the responsibilities that you were carrying prior to being a mom. It is perfectly normal and, quite frankly, beneficial to slow down and take on fewer responsibilities. The happiest moms are typically those who know how to set boundaries and who are willing to acknowledge that they are not perfect, nor should others expect them to be.
Don’t blame yourself. Babies are difficult. Period. They cry for no reason, sleep sporadically, eat frequently, require your undivided attention, and need constant nurturing and affection. Also, some babies are born with difficult temperaments. In other words, you, as a caring mother, often have very little impact on your baby’s temperament or sleep patterns during the newborn phase. Thus, avoid blaming yourself for the challenges of being a new mom. If you hear a mom saying that her baby slept through the night at 1 week old, don’t feel incompetent. Know that the vast majority of new babies don’t sleep well and do cry often.
Take care of yourself. Give yourself time to adjust to this new role. More often that not, women spend so much time focusing on caring for their little ones that they forget to attend to their own needs. Allow time for yourself and resist that feeling of guilt when you allow yourself some time away from the baby. Remember that self-care is important for keeping you happy and healthy, which allows you to have more physical and emotional energy to care for your little one.
Ask for and accept help. All moms need some help. The saying “It takes a village” couldn’t be more true. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or to accept meals, babysitting offers, diaper changing duty, etc. Also, if feelings of sadness persist, schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. Talk regularly with your obstetrician and ask him/her for help finding a counselor who specializes in treating post partum depression. Know that, without intervention, your symptoms of depression may be uncontrollable and that you do not have to, nor should you, experience these feelings alone.