Overcoming the “Baby Blues”
By Guest Author, Ainsley Lawrence
Becoming a new mom is an adventure that is exciting and emotional. Motherhood comes with its fair share of challenges, and these may often leave you feeling overwhelmed. Don’t worry — this is completely normal. In fact, Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D, in an article on Parents, states that about 80% of new mothers experience severe mood swings, commonly known as the “baby blues”. However, if these baby blues morph into something more, you need to take immediate action.
If you feel like your emotions are too much for you to handle, you could be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). WebMD describes the condition as a “severe form of clinical depression related to pregnancy and childbirth.”
Even though many mothers may not talk about it, postpartum depression is quite common. Epstein writes that about 10% of new mothers suffer from major postpartum depression in the first year after giving birth.
What Causes PPD?
To lower your risk of postpartum depression, it is first important to understand what could cause it. Certain women are more likely to develop postpartum depression than others. Some causes include:
- Past depression or a family history of mental illness.
- Enduring traumatic life events during pregnancy — like the death of a loved one — can increase the risk of postpartum PPD.
- Habits like alcohol or drug abuse and unhealthy eating that results in nutritional deficiencies can also affect your mindset.
- Emotional factors, like having mixed feelings about getting pregnant or being insecure due to not having a sound support system.
External factors such as a high-stress work environment or emotional labor can further contribute to the risk of PPD. Emotional labor is work in which people need to compartmentalize their feelings to complete their jobs duties. This often involves suppressing emotions and can have negative consequences for those who engage in it frequently, such as nurses and social workers. Without adequate self-care, doing emotional labor can lead to severe depression, and in turn, increase the risk of postpartum depression.
If any of these factors resonate with you, it is prudent to talk to your doctor as soon as possible, especially if you are already pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Your doctor should be able to guide you on what steps to take to lower your risk of developing PPD.
Can PPD Be Prevented?
While there is no guaranteed method to completely prevent postpartum depression, there are certain things you can do to make it less likely to occur. Here are some holistic tips to reduce the risk of developing PPD:
Exercise can do wonders both during your pregnancy, as well as after birth The article on Parents cites a study of more than 1,000 mothers who exercised before and after the birth of their child. The study found that these mothers felt much better emotionally and were more social when compared to mothers who didn’t exercise.
Exercising while pregnant is ideal but requires some caution. Avoid activities that involve a high risk of falling or those that involve excessive bouncing and advanced abdominal moving. Additionally, exercises that restrict breathing, or require you to lay flat on your back for long periods of time should be off-limits.
Depending on the trimester you are in, there are various safe exercises you can do while pregnant. For instance, swimming, walking, jogging, and Pilates are all suitable exercises during your first semester. Some of these can be done in your second trimester too, but it is important to be mindful and not overexert yourself. In your third trimester, it is beneficial to do exercises that strengthen your birthing muscles, like kegels and squats.
After giving birth, try to slowly get back into a normal exercise routine; making time to get your blood flowing can improve your emotional well-being. It goes without saying, but ensure you have your physician’s approval before partaking in any form of exercise during and after your pregnancy.
Get Enough Rest
Rest is an integral part of healing and recuperating. Rest is especially important after giving birth, even though it may seem like an impossible task to get adequate sleep. Most women know to nap when the baby naps but not all actually do so. Make sure you get some sleep as your baby rests. Avoid the urge to use that time to do other chores and errands.
According to Michael O’Hara, Ph.D and author of “Postpartum Depression: Causes and Consequences,” new mothers who can make up for lost sleep are less likely to feel sad and develop postpartum depression. Ask friends and family to pitch in to watch the baby so that you can get enough rest. If this isn’t an option, don’t be afraid to hire outside help so as to ease the load.
Learn to Relax
Motherhood can be extremely challenging, and often leads to heightened stress levels. In turn, this increases the risk of developing postpartum depression. Remember that newborn babies bond better with calm mothers. In fact, new mothers who spent at least 15 minutes a day relaxing in some way tend to cope better with the stresses of motherhood than those who don’t.
Even so, a lot of new mothers find it very difficult to relax, as they see it as an undeserved indulgence that leads to guilt. However, as a new mom, self-care is key. Being a perfectionist and not giving yourself any allowances can lead to postpartum depression very easily. If you are fixated on achieving perfection as a new parent, you’re likely to feel guilty easily — especially if you assume every other mother is doing a better job than them. This results in unrealistic expectations, high stress levels, and unnecessary guilt.
Thus, it’s essential to remember to cut yourself some slack and focus on being a happy mother, rather than trying to live up to the notion of the “perfect mother.” So, to lower your risk of PPD, take some time to relax, and don’t feel guilty about it. After all, your baby’s well-being is directly related to your own. You can relax by doing a guided meditation, taking a long bath, doing breathing exercises, going for a massage, or simply taking a walk out in nature with no other distractions.
Postpartum depression is not something to be ashamed about or disregard in the hope that it will automatically go away. If you feel like you have PPD or are at risk for developing it, talk to your doctor as soon as you can. In the meantime, use these holistic tips to lower your risk.