Planning to Be Depressed? What you need to know about postpartum depression before you deliver
To avoid the flu, you eat healthy and maybe get a flu shot. You take prenatal vitamins to avoid any number of ailments. You even exercise to keep yourself in shape and to put the odds of being a healthy mom and baby in your favor. But when it comes to mental health, it just isn’t that easy.
Unfortunately, you can’t prevent postpartum depression (PPD) with research, healthy eating or a pill. No amount of groundwork, preparation or determination guarantees you won’t be one of the 10 percent of new mothers who suffer each year. The reality is that PPD is a more common complication of childbirth than hemorrhaging or infection. Part of preventing PPD is knowing it can happen to anyone, whether this is your first or fourth baby, and whether or not you had PPD in the past.
Because you can’t predict whether or not you might have PPD, having your supports in place before your baby arrives is your ace in the hole. A good defense covers three bases: help with physical and practical needs, information and advice, and non-judgmental emotional support.
Think Like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared
Because depression can be immobilizing, it’s a good idea to line up your cheerleading squad before you need them. They’ll likely come from many different sources, so cast your net wide when beginning your search. Your partner may offer to take over laundry duty, bathroom cleaning or meal preparations. A neighbor might offer to shop for you or help with pet care. A sister might babysit one afternoon a week and vacuum while she’s there. A trusted friend may treat you to coffee while you vent.
Look online for support via email and check out your local health unit for Mommy and Me meetings. Sharing your experience of motherhood with other women can reduce your sense of isolation. And if PPD does set in, the companionship and shared experience of others can be a valuable healer.
“My doctor told me my depression couldn’t be PPD because it didn’t kick in right after the birth,” says Sharon Wren in East Moline, IL. “My midwife was a godsend. I told her everything and she was incredibly supportive. She even wrote a prescription for more sleep for me.”
The sooner you seek assistance from a healthcare professional, the sooner you will feel better, and PPD is believed to be more treatable in the initial stages. Don’t wait to ask for help.
Because of the silence surrounding mental health, you may not know if your mother had a nervous breakdown or if your father took stress leave. And despite all that is known about PPD, there is no hard and fast way to make a prediction. An eating disorder in adolescence, a prescription for tranquilizers during a difficult time, or extreme PMS might point to an increased risk. However, women with multiple risk factors may not get PPD, and women with no risk factors still experience PPD.
“Some women are devastated by the unexpected mood changes after delivery,” says Linda Sebastian, Florida author of Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (LPC, 1998). “And because they’re unaware of how common the problem is, they feel alone and ashamed and try to hide their symptoms. They think they are bad mothers.”
Hollywood cultivates the belief that motherhood is beautiful and serene… the “highest calling.” Rather than being a lifelong learning curve of shared joys and frustrations, motherhood becomes our barometer of success or failure. And going from an office environment where you’re judged according to productivity to being home alone with a newborn can be downright terrifying.
“After my first child, the rest of the world went on as usual and I was left behind,” says Barbara Feldman in South Orange, NJ. “My husband went back to work, my colleagues were at work, and family and friends were doing the same things that they had been doing. I, on the other hand, was thrust into the unfamiliar position of motherhood. I didn’t know how to do it, was unsure I would be good at it, and felt very alone.”
Build a Nurture Network
We’ve all seen a new mom bring her baby to a family gathering and within minutes be surrounded by older, wiser moms who’ve been there and done that. The new mom receives free, unsolicited advice that seems to be the exact opposite of what she’s doing.
Debbie Lindemann, R.N., D.C. at Life Chiropractic College West, San Francisco, says we need to be kinder to ourselves and other new moms after birth. “The expectant mom gets a lot of attention, but after birth all the attention gets focused on the new baby. This emotional let down is the accumulation of stress, disappointment and surprises surrounding the birth itself.”
“Don’t wake the baby as soon as company arrives,” Lindemann says. “Let your company spend time with you and ask how you’re feeling. It’s overwhelming when you realize that your new baby is totally dependent on you for survival. A friend’s compliments and support instills confidence when we need it most.”
Most importantly, understand that PPD is a chemical imbalance that needs time and possibly professional intervention and/or medication to correct itself. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms. Because PPD is a common occurrence, many healthcare professionals actually specialize in understanding and helping women overcome PPD. Don’t accept being depressed as a rite of motherhood… your baby is counting on you to fight it.
|Postpartum Depression — What You Should Know
Thanks to a cocktail of hormones jetting through your system after birth, you’ll likely be weepy for a few days. But if your symptoms last for more than two weeks, you may be suffering from PPD. You should see your physician if those symptoms include the following:• Crying for any or no apparent reason
• Feeling sad, guilty, anxious, irritable or overwhelmed
• Suffering from ongoing exhaustion or insomnia
• Overeating or having no appetite
• Feeling a lack of interest in your baby and things you normally enjoy (including sex)
• Feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty, frustrated, angry, panicky
• Having heart palpitations or feeling agitated
• Wanting to be alone (if you previously enjoyed company) or fearing being alone
• Can’t remember things or concentrate; feel confused or indecisive
• Have nightmares or thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby
|Health Tips for New Mothers
• Take time to relax. Sleep, knit, go for a walk or snuggle up with a book to recharge your batteries. Ask your partner to share nighttime feeding duties or take over laundry or dishes.
• Give yourself a break. Mothering is a skill that needs to be learned. Take time to learn one new skill each week. You’ll feel stronger and more in control when you take baby steps towards your new role.
• Don’t spend too much time alone. Get out and be around other adults for at least a short time each day.
• Join a support group for new mothers. You may be able to find one through your healthcare provider, church, health unit or library.
|Attention New Dads: Read This!
It’s not easy being the partner of a woman with PPD. You have a new baby with all the work and worry that entails, and at the same time, your partner is changing in often alarming ways. Start by acknowledging your feelings, which may range from frustration to anger to loss. You might feel overwhelmed and exhausted and need help for yourself, as well as your partner. Most PPD support groups offer discussion meetings or information evenings for partners, where they share both practical advice and the variety of emotional reactions they are experiencing.This is not the time to get selfish, take up a new hobby, start a business or make a major career move, PPD will pass, and you’ll still have years ahead of you in raising a family. Just hang in there, get through a hard time, and things will settle down. Really!
The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.