You’re not alone. Nearly every new mother experiences some type of sadness in the first few weeks after her baby is born. They are most likely experiencing what are called the baby blues and are having a range of feelings that might include exhaustion, fatigue, sadness, frustration, insomnia, unstable emotions, feels of being overwhelmed, frequent crying, anxiety and irritability.
But the baby blues usually begin to fade within a few weeks after birth, with many new moms starting to feel a little better each day starting in week three. But others – about one in seven – start to feel worse, and their symptoms progress to full-blown postpartum depression which can be diagnosed any time in the first two years after baby’s birth.
Having a baby is HARD! It’s a 24/7, non-stop demand on your time with no planned breaks to eat, shower, sleep, talk to your partner, have tea with a friend, or indulge in something as simple as getting a haircut! Every hour of the day is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Projects remain undone, dishes pile up in the sink, laundry overflows. And you know what? It’s all okay and normal and part of the transition to motherhood.
Personally, I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to adjust to life with a new baby is that women do not have cultural permission to feel icky and overwhelmed after their baby is born. The expectation is that they should be happy, they should be able to do it all, they should be able to get back into their pre-pregnancy jeans in just a few weeks. These expectations can be unattainable for many women, and lead them from the baby blues right into postpartum depression.
What we should be telling moms is this, that in the first few months after baby is born, it’s okay to:
· Sleep on and off throughout the day because chances are good you’re not sleeping enough at night.
· Skip the makeup, even for company.
· Wear your pajamas or sweats all day, especially for company! They’ll get the hint that you’re recovering, NOT hosting!
· Accept that your “to do” list for right now has been pared down: take care of baby, take care of self.
· Ditch out of life for a little while: skip the family graduation party, text a happy birthday message instead of sending a card, let the dust bunnies accumulate in the corner. It’s not forever, just for now.
· Find help for everyday stuff: have groceries delivered, hire a neighbor to walk the dog, call for takeout. These are temporary fixes, practical ways to get through the adjustment, and not intended as long-term budget breakers.
· If the budget allows, hire a postpartum doula, a trained professional who can help take care of mom so that she can rest and feed baby. Postpartum doulas can work days or overnights to care for baby so mom (and dad!) can sleep. They might also prepare meals and do some housekeeping. Consider putting this on the baby shower gift list and let guests contribute to the cost.
Adjusting to motherhood is tough for almost every new mother, even the ones who look like they
have it all together. Those with strong support from family and friends probably have a better shot at leaving the baby blues behind than those who don’t have good inherent support. But even if you don’t have family or friends nearby who can help, you can find good support: there are mom’s groups all around the Tampa Bay area, including at Breath of Life Birth Center in Largo. Sometimes all it takes to shift our whole day is to hear another mom say “yeah, that’s a challenge for me, too.”
Baby blues that lead to postpartum depression is no joke. It is not a sign of weakness. It’s not a sign that a mother doesn’t love her baby. It is a true medical condition that requires early detection by loved ones and caregivers who know the signs and symptoms so that a woman can get the help she needs. For some, that immediate help might be prescription medications, but for other new moms, consistent sleep, help around the house, and laughing with friends might be all she needs to help get her back on her feet again.
How do you know if you’re starting to head down the road toward postpartum depression? Here are some of the symptoms:
· Sleeping a lot
· Not sleeping at all
· Feeling worthless
· Guilty feelings
· Over or under eating
· Brain fog
· No interest in things you used to like to do
· Thoughts of hurting yourself
· Thoughts of hurting your baby
Some of the best ways for a mom with postpartum depression to feel better are things that she can do herself, or with the encouragement and support of the people around her. They include:
· Getting outside for a good dose of sunshine
· Eating healthy foods
· Avoiding processed foods and those that are high in fat and sugar
· Sleeping when the baby sleeps
· Increasing skin-to-skin time with baby
· Going to a therapist: a trained therapist offers moms a safe place to talk about how they’re really feeling and can help her get back on track
· Taking medications: prescription drugs are not always a bad thing! Combining medications with therapy is appropriate for women in certain situations and should be strongly considered for a mom who is experiencing severe postpartum depression.
Rarely but occasionally women experience a much more severe type of disorder called postpartum psychosis. This requires immediate medical attention and a safe place for baby while mom recovers. Symptoms of postpartum psychosis include hallucinations, loss of hope, insomnia, anorexia, rapid mood swings, agitation, paranoia with loss of reality, infant delusions, mania, and accelerated speech.
If you or someone you know is struggling with either baby blues, postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis, help them get help: encourage them to see their physician, find a therapist, and/or a local support group. We’ll be starting one soon here at Breath of Life thanks to the efforts of The Seventh Mom Project which currently offers groups in two other locations in the Tampa Bay area.
If there’s no group nearby, Postpartum Support International has online support groups as well as information how dads and partners can help a woman get through the challenges of postpartum depression.