9 Ways to Tackle Postpartum Depression
August 11, 2016 | Focus on Women
Having a baby is a joyous occasion for most women. Handling the demands of a newborn, though, can also be stressful. Many women experience a temporary bout of the “baby blues” shortly after giving birth.
But if your “baby blues” seem to be getting worse, you may be among the 5 to 25 percent of women who suffer from postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is such a serious condition that a federal panel of health experts recently recommended screening all women during pregnancy and after childbirth.
“Postpartum depression is one of the most common postpartum illnesses, but it is the least talked about,” said Kathleen Montesi, a pediatric nurse practitioner. “Women need to know that it’s treatable and curable.”
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and after childbirth can trigger postpartum depression in some women, said Lisa Honigfeld, Ph.D., vice president of health initiatives for the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. Symptoms include intense sadness, anxiety, irritability, anger, crying bouts, insomnia, lack of appetite, inability to focus, a loss of interest in favorite activities, physical aches and suicidal thoughts. Depressed moms may also have trouble bonding with their baby.
“Maternal depression is something that happens to women from all social, racial and economic backgrounds,” said Honigfeld. But if left undiagnosed and untreated, postpartum depression can hinder a child’s physical, cognitive and social development. “The research about the impact of maternal depression on early brain development is very strong,” she added. “Maternal depression can be a form of toxic stress for an infant.”
If you can’t shake the “baby blues” or suspect your symptoms are intensifying, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Montesi suggests speaking to your obstetrician or your child’s pediatrician about your concerns. He or she can screen for postpartum depression and refer you to a mental health expert to help you navigate this difficult time. Treatment options include talk therapy and medications.
In addition, health experts offer these suggestions to cope with postpartum depression.
1. Ask for help. Many women want to handle all the details of their personal and professional lives. But let’s face it, we’re not Super Women. Don’t be shy about asking family and friends for help with baby care, housekeeping, meal preparation and other tasks. You may be surprised by how much people want to help.
2. Take care of yourself. It’s easy to forget about your own needs when you’re caring for a newborn. But finding the time to care for yourself is important, too. Even a few minutes of respite can be energizing, providing you with the physical stamina and positive frame of mind to handle parenting duties.
3. Be kind to yourself. Many women with postpartum depression don’t share their feelings with others because they’re afraid people will think they are bad mothers. Having postpartum depression is not your fault. Avoid the guilt trap and recognize that postpartum depression is a temporary hurdle.
4. Enjoy the sunshine. Add a little sunshine to your life to reduce stress and depression. Exposure to sunlight triggers the brain to release a hormone called serotonin, which has been associated with boosting moods and feelings of calmness. So get outside—just remember to wear a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 if you plan to be outside longer than 15 minutes.
5. Ease back into exercising. Physical activity helps the body produce endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that can elevate your mood. If you feel pressed for time or haven’t exercised in the past, start by taking a few minutes to walk around the block and build from there. If you were an avid exerciser before giving birth, talk with your doctor about slowly getting back to your exercise regimen.
6. Make meals a priority. Eating nutritious food can boost your physical and mental well-being. But getting a meal on the table can be tough during those first few weeks, when everyone is getting accustomed to a new routine. Consider indulging in healthy take-out from your favorite restaurant or prepared meals from the supermarket to keep your belly full and the cooking to a minimum.
7. Join a support group. Talking to other mothers who share your joys, fears and challenges can be cathartic and validate your experiences. A support group can offer camaraderie when you need it most, and you may get some practical tips to make life at home easier.
8. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can play havoc with your physical and mental health. Try to get eight hours of sleep every night. Take turns with your partner to handle nighttime baby feedings. Take a nap during the day whenever your baby is sleeping.
9. Check out online resources. Postpartum Support International has extensive nationwide resources to link women with mental health providers, experts and support groups in their area.
No matter how much you looked forward to motherhood, having a baby can be stressful. It’s natural to experience a mild case of sadness at the beginning. But if your symptoms worsen or won’t go away, it’s important to speak with a health care provider who can screen for postpartum depression. With the proper treatment and support, you can get back on the path to happy motherhood. “The sooner you catch postpartum depression,” said Montesi, “the sooner you’ll feel better.”