Staying healthy after childbirth isn’t an easy task because carrying a child changes your body, your mind, and your emotions. The postpartum period can be especially challenging since you are adapting to physical and emotional changes while learning how to care for your little one and dealing with a new reality of motherhood.
Also, you and your partner need to adjust to your new roles as parents and a different family system. From healing after childbirth to sleep deprivation, the first six to eight weeks after giving birth can be overwhelming. During this intense time, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and prioritize proper self-care.
The four tips listed below will help you keep you focus on staying healthy after childbirth.
Your body endures a lot of changes during pregnancy and birth. This is the time to nourish your body with the right food choices. A well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet will give your body the essential ingredients it needs to function properly.
It is not unusual for new mothers to be too tired or busy to skip meals even when they feel hunger. It’s tempting to reach for sugary and fatty foods, especially when you are pushed for time and energy.
Remind yourself that getting proper nutrition is an integral part of staying healthy, particularly if you are breastfeeding since most nutrients your baby needs come from your breast milk.
Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits, and stick to lean protein sources and whole-grain foods. Varied, nutritious, and tasty is what you should go for. Having plenty of chopped fresh fruit and vegetables at the reach of your hand will help you stick to a healthy eating regimen.
Keep Up With Your Prenatal Vitamins
After your baby is born, you may benefit from keeping up with your prenatal vitamins, especially if you are breastfeeding. Pregnancy depletes some nutrients in the body, like folate and calcium. And breastfeeding increases your daily recommended dose of many nutrients.
Even with a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet, vitamins are a good way to ensure you meet your recommended intake of critical nutrients and your nutrient stores are replenished. To support your body in restoring the nutrients it might have lost during pregnancy, your doctor may recommend you to take your prenatal vitamins for at least six months postpartum, even if you are not breastfeeding.
In addition to taking supplements, there are more ways to ensure that you’re staying healthy after childbirth. Thanks to medical advances, it’s now possible to collect stem cells at birth and undergo placenta stem cell treatment in case the need arises. This revolutionary treatment shows promising results in dozens of conditions, including heart conditions and kidney failure, so prior to your childbirth, consider placental tissue banking for future medical or therapeutic use.
Take It Easy and Prioritize Rest
Getting rest can be challenging for new mothers, but it is necessary for both physical and mental health. Carrying a baby for nine months puts an enormous strain on the female body, and the act of giving birth can be hard on your body as well.
So, how can you help it recuperate with an infant to take care of? For starters, focus on feeding your baby and taking care of yourself, and ask your loved ones for help. Allow them to take over most responsibilities you used to handle.
If you are struggling with sleep deprivation, developing a regular sleep routine for your newborn will help you both get a good night’s rest. Don’t use the time when your baby sleeps during the day to clean or do other chores. Utilize that time to get some sleep too.
Also, it’s essential not to be stuck in the house all day long. Get outside, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day. It will make a huge difference over time. Fresh air will help both you and baby rest better and that is so important for staying healthy after childbirth.
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
There is still some taboo around birth and postpartum bodies that we need to address and normalize. The aftermath of giving birth often includes weakened pelvic floor muscles. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery affect this group of muscles, tissues, and ligaments significantly.
The bladder leakage is usually temporary, and as you heal, you will probably see improvement, but it may take months to go back to normal. You can speed up the recovery process more quickly with Kegel exercises designed to target pelvic floor muscles. If you are dealing with more severe issues affecting your mental wellbeing, make sure to see a pelvic health therapist.
New moms have a lot on their plate, and a daily self-care routine is a necessity. Ask for help and accept it when offered. Also, remember that even a few minutes here and there can add up during the day and make a difference in your recovery and your health status. Simply prioritize staying healthy after childbirth, both physically and mentally.
Stephen Jones is a freelance writer and a new father. “Becoming a father for the first time is not easy, but it is so much happiness that complicated things are handled in the best way because the baby is the fruit of love and he brings great satisfaction.” Stephen enjoys writing about health, food, nutrition, and children’s health for other parents. “Freelance writing has always been my passion so I combined the two and hopes to be able to share my passion with others!” Check him out on Facebook or Twitter.
Scary and intrusive thoughts are a common symptom of postpartum depression.
Intrusive thoughts lead many women to believe that they are terrible people, unfit mothers or a danger to their children. While many women experience them in some form, they don’t always recognize that they are intrusive or involuntary. Instead, they believe that the thoughts are how they truly feel, or what they are thinking subconsciously. They don’t talk about them for fear of what others will think of them.
It’s important to speak up about intrusive thoughts, but before a woman can do that – she needs to understand what they are, where they come from and what they mean. This is the only way she will be able to accept that the thoughts she is having are not who she has become, but rather, a side effect of her mental illness.
Here is some more information about intrusive thoughts.
What are Intrusive Thoughts?
Intrusive thoughts are an idea or image that come to your mind involuntarily. The thoughts may be extremely out-of-character and can be shocking when they happen. They are almost exactly the same as the thoughts and images that you normally have, except that they are not created nor welcomed by you. Intrusive thoughts are a sign of mental illness and prove that your mind is playing tricks on you.
What are NOT Intrusive Thoughts?
They are not hallucinations
They are not third party voices in your head
They are not an indication of postpartum psychosis
They are not subconscious thoughts or images
They are not part of your normal train of thought
They are not how you truly feel deep down inside
Types of Intrusive Thoughts
The most common type of postpartum intrusive thoughts are of doing something bad to the baby. They can be “what if…” type of thoughts such as “what if I drop my baby down the stairs” or “what if I stab my baby with a knife.” They can also come in the form of intrusive images such as watching the baby drown in the bathtub or crashing the car with the baby in the backseat.
Intrusive thoughts can also be about harming yourself. Many women experience suicidal thoughts but have no actual desire to commit suicide. Postpartum depression can cause women to experience thoughts of running away, jumping out of a moving car or falling asleep and never waking up again. Intrusive thoughts often make a woman believe she is unfit to be a mother and that her children would be better off without her.
Another type of intrusive thought includes harming a spouse or another loved one. It’s normal to complain about the annoying things a spouse does and imagine doing something bad to them, but when it affects your relationship or comes out of nowhere it could be an intrusive thought. Postpartum depression, and especially postpartum rage, are often misdirected towards spouses and partners – making a woman believe that she really does hate her husband. Add in intrusive thoughts like running them over with the car and it’s a relationship nightmare…
Some intrusive thoughts are inappropriate and violent. Many can be sexual in nature or include things like harming animals, behaving violently or setting the house on fire.
Basically, any thought or image that enters your head that feels scary and unnatural is considered an intrusive thought.
The Danger of Intrusive Thoughts
Thoughts and images alone are not dangerous. But intrusive thoughts can cause several unwanted side effects that can become dangerous both physically and mentally.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Intrusive thoughts can cause a woman to develop postpartum OCD and become obsessed with certain thoughts and images. If she imagines the baby dying in their sleep, she may stop sleeping in order to check on baby several times through the night.
Stress and Anxiety. Knowing that intrusive thoughts are a possibility is a big source of stress and anxiety, which can worsen symptoms of postpartum depression. Intrusive thoughts can also cause panic attacks and other physical symptoms.
Acting on Intrusive Thoughts. It’s rare that a woman would go so far as to act on her intrusive thoughts but the danger that she might still exists. Being unable to recognize the difference between intrusive thoughts and reality can signal something worse (like postpartum psychosis). If you feel a strong urge to act on your intrusive thoughts, make sure to speak to your doctor immediately.
Stigmatizing. Intrusive thoughts play a major role in the stigma of postpartum depression. Many mothers who try to open up about them are treated like crazy people or seen as dangerous and suicidal. If intrusive thoughts are confessed to someone without enough knowledge about them (even a medical professional), the consequences could be devastating. Its important to find a safe place to discuss intrusive thoughts.
The Truth About Intrusive Thoughts
The truth is, they are not real. They may stem from the feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm caused by postpartum depression but they are not part of the subconscious mind. They are a figment of your imagination and a by-product of mental illness. In order to eliminate them, and avoid having them control your life, you need to accept that they are coming from somewhere else, and not from what’s within your heart.
How to Get Rid of Them
As long as a woman is suffering from a mental illness, the intrusive thoughts will always be a possibility. So the only way to eliminate them altogether is to treat the underlying condition. There are still several things a person can do to keep intrusive thoughts from affecting their lives.
Document Them. Writing down scary thoughts as they happen can help make them less frightening. You can write them on paper, in a journal or workbook, on your phone or use an app. If you really want to take a stand and connect with other women who are having them, you could even consider blogging about them.
Online Therapy. Speaking to a mental health professional is always a good course of action for women battling intrusive thoughts. With online therapy, you have the option to chat with your therapist anytime throughout the day, as opposed to waiting for a scheduled appointment. This is a great option to be able to discuss scary thoughts as they occur. (If this is an option you’d like to explore, try online therapy using my affiliate link: https://runningintriangles.com/OnlineTherapy).
Meditation. Clearing the mind on a daily basis can help reduce the instances of intrusive thoughts. Meditation can also help to create mindfulness in general, making you feel a little bit more in control of the thoughts and images in your own head. Meditation, either alone or while doing yoga, should become an important part of your self-care routine for battling postpartum depression and intrusive thoughts.
Positive Imagery. Surround yourself with sights that make you feel happy. You can put together a photo album of some of your happiest photos and look at it regularly. Or keep flowers and plants in your home. Hang motivational posters or family photos on the walls. Subconsciously, your mind will soak up all the beauty around you and be a happier place.
Distraction. Keeping the mind distracted will allow less time for scary thoughts to creep in. Music is an excellent way to keep the mind distracted. Try playing music in the background while you’re home, call or visit with a friend, read a book or put on the television. Maintaining a proper self-care routine can also help keep intrusive thoughts away.
The most important factor in dealing with intrusive thoughts is to know the difference between your actual thoughts and the unwanted ones.
Having frightening thoughts may make you feel like a bad mother with the potential to do something harmful but it’s not the truth. Focus on the positive thoughts and try your best to ignore the ones that make you feel anything but joy. Accept that they are a side effect of postpartum depression and not who you have become. It may take a while for the thoughts and images to go away, but as long as you remember that you are still you inside, you can defeat them.
I’ve given birth to three kids, experienced three similar pregnancies, labored through three natural, drug-free births, but ended up with three very different postpartum recovery periods…
What’s the difference between the baby blues vs. postpartum depression? It’s a question that many mothers have asked themselves because it’s hard to know for sure if you’re suffering from a maternal mental health disorder or not.
The baby blues is not an actual mental health disorder, but a common experience in the early days postpartum, however some women don’t experience it at all. Postpartum depression is often explained away as a bad case of the baby blues when, in reality, it’s much more serious.
To help end some of the confusion, here’s what it felt like first hand.
The Baby Blues
Shortly after the birth of my first child I experienced symptoms of what I believe were the common baby blues. They didn’t last long and they didn’t disrupt my life (much).
The mood swings were my first indicator. I remember watching my husband interact with the baby while our two dogs sat at his feet watching. I thought about how the dogs had no idea how much life was changing and I instantly burst into tears. I’m not usually a sensitive or emotional person so this was a sure sign to me that I was experiencing some type of hormonal imbalance. It was very similar to the mood swings I experienced during pregnancy. [Try tracking your moods with a printable mood tracker]
The sleep deprivation added to my emotional state. The way someone would feel after staying up partying all night long (which may or may not be a familiar feeling for me *wink wink*). I felt irritable and edgy but sleep, when I could get it, was welcome and helped to alleviate the stress. [Keep track of how much sleep you’re getting each night].
My brain was foggy and I was easily distracted. The “mom brain” was probably one of the hardest symptoms for me to manage as someone who prides themselves on having a great memory. Suddenly I couldn’t multi-task because I would forget what I was doing in the first place. I wrote down absolutely everything in a log book, significant or not, in a vain attempt to remember everything.
I felt an overwhelming urge to protect him and I worried a lot about everything he did. I worried about holding him too much, or not enough. I worried about the way others were holding him. I worried about his diaper being put on properly. I worried about such small and insignificant things (in addition to all the normal motherhood worrying like how much he was eating, pooping and sleeping). [Document your worries in a worry workbook]
I didn’t bond with the baby as much as I thought I would. I spent a lot of time talking to him but the lack of a response discouraged me. I wasn’t absolutely head over heels in love with him the way motherhood is portrayed in the media, but I didn’t feel anything negative either. I was just so tired and still adjusting to this new lifestyle.
We didn’t get out of the house much at first.I was extremely overprotective of him and convinced that he would contract bad germs from strangers. Aside from worrying, I honestly just didn’t feel like leaving the comfort of my own home.
It eventually went away on it’s own. Similar to a really bad case of PMS, I started to feel “normal” again. I didn’t cry at the mere thought of something sad and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and socialize. By the time he was 2 months old he was smiling, making eye contact and interacting and I did fall head over heels in love with him.
After the birth of my second child, things felt a little bit different. That first baby that I didn’t bond with? Well he was two years old now and the absolute center of my world. So for the first couple months, things were monotonous and scheduled and boring – as long as the baby was concerned, at least.
She had basic needs and I didn’t try too hard to bond with her. I figured it would happen eventually, so I didn’t put too much pressure on myself this time. The first two months after her birth were extremely busy in my social life so I didn’t have time to stew over the fact that life as I knew it had completely changed.
But when the dust settled and I was left at home, alone, with a toddler and a newborn who wouldn’t stop crying – things changed…
I was tired and emotional but this time I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. Every time I closed my eyes I thought I heard the baby cry and got up to check on her. Sometimes it was 15 times in an hour but I couldn’t stop myself because I knew the one time I didn’t check on her would be the time something bad happened. If someone else offered to look after her while I took a nap, then I would lie in bed for 2 hours worrying if she was alright.
The mood swings were extreme and uncontrollable.As the weeks went on, I started to despise her. I blamed her for everything I was feeling. She felt my negative feelings and cried harder and longer which made me dislike her even more. But then I would think about how I’ve always wanted to have a daughter and I would suffocate her in love – until she started crying again. The slightest things could send me into fits of rage and I got offended and jealous very easily.
I was terrified to leave the house with her. I was certain she would cry and I wouldn’t be able to handle her and everyone would stare at me and think I was a horrible mother. So I stayed in my house where no one could judge me. I avoided contact with almost everyone.
And the worst part of all was that I lied about what I was feeling to everyone. I felt humiliated and inadequate and worthless but I hid it the best I could. I dressed the baby up in cute outfits and took cute pictures of her to post on social media. I posted captions about how much I loved having a baby girl and how all of my dreams had come true but in reality I just wanted to rewind life to a time before she existed.
Considering I went to hell and back with my last baby, I must have been absolutely crazy to have another one, right? The postpartum depression was forefront in my mind but this time I felt more prepared. I knew what to look for, and I knew that I needed to speak up if I felt something was even a little bit off.
The first time she was placed in my arms, I felt it. That immediate love that legends were made of. I couldn’t wait to hold her and I didn’t want to do anything else except just stare at her perfect face.
The early days with her were peaceful and calm – despite the sleepless nights. The other two children often played with each other and so I had her all to myself. The fact that she couldn’t talk back to me actually made me want to spend MORE time with her!
Trying to balance three children was definitely a challenge, and extremely overwhelming at times, but instead of being afraid and nervous and frustrated – I felt excited and determined to make the best of it!
I felt like I could control my mood. Even on days when she was extra fussy or I was extra tired, I always managed to stay calm and relaxed around her. I never felt a sad or negative thought about her. And she was a calm and relaxed baby because of it.
Initially I worried about how the older children would handle the new baby. But they never once showed any signs of jealousy towards her and completely welcomed her into our family. I cried more tears of joy in her first few months than I ever have in my life.
I worried about how much she ate, pooped and slept and whether she was hitting her milestones on time. Mostly because I was always comparing her to the other children. In an attempt to get things right this time, I asked a lot of questions, I sought a lot of help and I socialized as often as possible.
I took all three kids out as often as I could. It was next to impossible to manage all of them in public (and it still is) but I sure didn’t want to get stuck inside the house with them!
When it comes to the baby blues vs. postpartum depression vs. no postpartum mood disorder, I can’t say for certain what factors affected these different outcomes. It was only in hindsight that I was able to really identify the differences. But regardless of my three experiences, I feel the same kind of love for all three of my children. When I think about life with a newborn, I try my hardest to reflect on the happiness of my last one, but will never forget the darkness that came before.
When I talk of breastfeeding and sadness, the conversation always leans towards postpartum depression.
Let’s face it, almost everything about motherhood is hard. Pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum recovery and breastfeeding are hard. So when a new mother experiences strange sensations while breastfeeding, it’s no wonder that she blames it on hormones, stress, and the insane amount of adjusting it takes to get used to motherhood.
Often, there isn’t one explanation for why a new mom feels the way she does. But sometimes, there is a completely valid reason for it. And that validation can mean the world for a woman who is struggling to understand all of her emotions.
If breastfeeding is causing some unsteady feelings, it could be caused by a condition known as D-MER.
D-MER is a chemical imbalance that’s triggered with the let-down reflex during breastfeeding.
Different women feel it different ways and at different levels of intensity. Dysphoric means negative feelings so the feelings range from depressed to angry. Some women describe it as a “homesick” feeling in the pit of the stomach.
FOR ME, IT FELT LIKE AN ANXIETY ATTACK.My insides felt as though they were twisting and bubbling and my heart started racing. I would get a tingling pins and needles sensation all over my upper body and arms. There was this overwhelming feeling of “dread” as if something terrible was about to happen. Like that feeling you get when you wake up late for work, or if you’re worried about getting into trouble for something.
The feeling only lasted for the first few minutes after a let down reflex but it happened every single time I had a let down reflex… every single time I breastfed.
And while I came to anticipate them each time I breastfed or pumped milk, I didn’t associate these negative feelings with the let down reflex – I just assumed they came at random times. Naturally, I classified them as some sort of postpartum depression symptom since I also suffered with postpartum depression and the baby blues.
It wasn’t until I mentioned the strange sensation to my public health nurse shortly after the birth of my third child that she suggested it might be D-MER. After some research on it, I knew instantly it was what I had, especially since I had no significant symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder this time around.
Awareness is the Number One Treatment Option for D-MER.
But breastfeeding my third child was much easier after knowing the exact cause of these strange feelings. I learned to breathe through the anxiety attacks and wait for them to be over – similar to breathing through labor contractions. The confusion, the guilt, the shame and the stress were all gone because now I knew that it was simply a reflex, and not a psychological problem.
Always be sure to talk to your doctor before adding any kind of supplement to your diet while breastfeeding. Unfortunately, it’s such a new condition that many health care providers aren’t even aware that it exists, so going to your doctor armed with some information might be in your best interest.
Milkology is a 90 minute online breastfeeding class run by certified lactation specialist, Stacy Stewart. For less than $20, you can get some amazing tips for breastfeeding success – with a money back guarantee!
This story, and so many others like it, really hit home and broke my heart. But what bothered me the most was the public reaction… Many people seemed to believe that she got what she deserved.
As a fellow mother with postpartum depression, I realized that I needed to do something to help others understand maternal mental illness. Her story was a worst case scenario, but I dreaded what others would think of me if they knew the dark thoughts and feelings that I battled with due to postpartum depression.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy like that to encourage someone to speak up but it made me realize two important things:
1.) I was not alone.
2.) We need to annihilate the stigma of postpartum depression.
While it can be terrifying to “speak up when you’re feeling down” it is so important both for our own mental health and to help bring awareness about this debilitating condition.
Prior to becoming a mother myself, I had heard about postpartum depression in all of it’s notorious glory. But I never, ever, in a million years, thought it would happen to me. I had ZERO risk factors and an awesome support system. So when the first few symptoms started popping up, I laughed it off… “ME??? Postpartum depression??? Never!!!” Moms often don’t speak up about postpartum depression because they don’t even believe it themselves.
All we ever hear about when it comes to parenting is how hard it is. The sleep loss, the crying, the breastfeeding struggle – it’s all normal… right? A brand new mother experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression may assume that this is what everyone meant when they said it was hard. I’ve heard stories of women opening up to others about what they were feeling, only to be told “welcome to motherhood.” Is it any wonder that new moms don’t speak up about postpartum depression when they get this kind of response?
3. We are terrified of having our child taken away from us
Obviously we want what’s best for our child but it would be a mother’s worst nightmare to be deemed incapable of caring for her own child (the child who got her into this mess in the first place, might I add). If anyone knew the thoughts that a mother with postpartum depression has on a regular basis, they would lock her up and throw away the key. Mothers don’t speak up about postpartum depression because we’re afraid of what might happen if we do.
If you are feeling the urge to act upon your bad thoughts, seek help immediately as you may be suffering from a rarer case of postpartum psychosis.
4. We are ashamed of ourselves
We don’t speak up about postpartum depression because society has led us to believe that having a mental illness is our fault. Admitting to it is admitting that we were one of the weak ones who fell susceptible to the curse that is postpartum depression. We feel like terrible people for thinking and feeling the way we do, even though we have no control over it.
5. We are concerned about what others will think of us
If we are diagnosed with postpartum depression that means we are classified as “mentally ill” and will need to accept the stigma that comes along with that label. All of a sudden we are dangerous and unpredictable. Will other people start to question our parenting skills now? Will they treat us as if we are delicate and fragile and weak? What will our co-workers or employers think? Will having postpartum depression jeopardize our futures? If we don’t speak up about postpartum depression, then we don’t have to deal with the awkward conversations that come along with it.
6. We feel like failures
This is not the way it was supposed to happen. In our dreams of becoming mothers we pictured it blissful and beautiful. We imagined sitting in a rocking chair, singing lullabies to a sleepy, happy baby. And when it wasn’t like this, we felt like we had failed. We failed our children and robbed them of a happy childhood. We failed our spouses and robbed them of a happy marriage. We failed ourselves and all of our dreams of motherhood. No one ever wants to admit that they are a failure.
7. We think we can cure ourselves
We think it will go away on it’s own, eventually. Or maybe we are planning to tell someone when it gets worse… it just hasn’t yet. We think that if we sleep a little more, relax a little more, meditate and do yoga that our postpartum depression will magically go away and so there’s no need to burden anyone else with our problems. Self-care while battling postpartum depression is extremely important but it’s highly unlikely that the symptoms will go away without a proper treatment plan.
8. We don’t trust the medical system
It’s a sad truth that many women who open up about postpartum depression still don’t get the help they need. Unless you already have a trusting relationship with a medical professional it can be difficult to find the right person to seek help from with such a personal matter. The fear is that we’ll be told we’re over-exaggerating, drug seekers or that it’s all in our head, so we just don’t speak up about postpartum depression.
Regardless of how difficult it is to find good help, it’s so necessary to seek treatment. Postpartum depression will NOT go away on it’s own, and even if the feelings do subside after a while, there is always chance of a relapse.
9. We feel alone
We’ve joined online support groups. We read the posts and silently agree without so much as a “like.” The women write about how they’re exhausted and overwhelmed. They talk about how they can’t sleep at night, how they can’t eat or can’t stop eating and how they worry about everything all the time. And we can relate to that.
But what those women don’t talk about is the bad thoughts they have. It’s incriminating and requires a *trigger warning* and what if no one else feels the same way?
I’m here to tell you that I don’t care what bad thoughts you have, I don’t want nor need to know what they are because chances are, I’ve had them too. You don’t have to say them out loud. You can pretend like you didn’t even think them, so long as you know that you are not the only person who has thought them. You are not alone.
To prove it to you, here is a list of postpartum depression stories from other brave mothers who have been through the worst of the worst and still managed to survive (myself included).
If you’ve read this entire post and can relate to all 9 of these things, then it’s time to do something about it. Staying silent about postpartum depression helps no one.
Then, write out your story. It doesn’t have to be pretty – in fact, it probably won’t be. But don’t hold back. Think about all of the real and raw things you wish someone else had been brave enough to tell you.
Next, decide if you are ready to tell it. Do you want to tell someone close to you or would you prefer to anonymously release it into the world for other mothers with PPD to read? Either way is fine, as long as you’re not keeping it all inside.
If a woman in your life has recently given birth, then there’s a 1 in 5 chance they are struggling with postpartum depression.
It might be your partner, daughter, sister or friend but no matter who they are to you, it’s normal to feel helpless seeing them in pain. It can be even more discouraging when you try to help them and they shut you out. But don’t be offended, mental illness is a tricky situation and displays in many different ways. There are still several ways to help a mother with postpartum depression, even if she tries to push you away.
From a mother who has battled it first hand, here are a few tips that might help you understand her better and be able to provide the right type of support.
1. Know the symptoms
It’s very common for a mother to be in denial about their postpartum depression at first. Even if she does have her suspicions, it’s unlikely that she will admit it out loud. Often, it can be hard to tell the difference between the common baby blues and a real mental health disorder unless you know what to look for. The best way to help a mother with postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety is to recognize the symptoms. Even if she doesn’t want to talk about it, you can get her the help she needs.
[Think you or someone you love might have postpartum depression? Check out this post to find out what to do next.]
There is a lot of stigma around postpartum depression and many people still don’t believe it’s a real disease. If she does open up to you about having postpartum depression – believe that her pain is real. She is not being overly dramatic. She is not “just tired.” Motherhood is overwhelming in general and it will be for a very long time but postpartum depression is different – it’s uncontrollable. Sometimes, just being on her team is the best way to help a mother with postpartum depression.
Sleep deprivation can aggravate postpartum depression but postpartum depression can cause insomnia so it’s a lose-lose situation. Do whatever you can to help her rest. If she cannot sleep at night, then make sure she gets frequent, short naps in throughout the day. Invest in a new mattress to see if it makes a difference in her quality of sleep. Here’s an excellent one that you can try for an entire year.
With a new baby, it’s natural and understandable to be sleep deprived. If you’re having a lot of difficulty getting baby to sleep, consider hiring a sleep training expert.
But if baby is sleeping through the night and mom isn’t, then there’s definitely something wrong.
4. Don’t tell her things could be worse
It’s natural to want to tell her stories about someone else who had it worse in the hopes of making her feel better, but it can have the opposite effect. Your horror stories won’t help a mother with postpartum depression, only cause added stress. Instead of being thankful that she isn’t having suicidal thoughts, she might see her pain as insignificant and feel guilty for having such a difficult time when others are going through “things that are worse.”
It’s still important to make sure that she knows she isn’t alone, as long as she knows that debilitating pain from postpartum depression comes in all forms.
5. Don’t try to explain why
It’s not her fault.But she will try to blame herself anyway. Trying to find a reason why this has happened can inadvertently put more guilt on her. Yes, she’s tired, yes, breastfeeding is hard, yes, labor was intense but those are not the reasons why she has postpartum depression. If labor and recovery were a breeze, baby was nursing fine and sleeping well she could STILL have it.
Knowing that postpartum depression does not discriminate and there was nothing she could have done to avoid it will relieve some of her guilt.
6. Keep it on the down low
For some reason, having a mental illness is embarrassing. While it’s important to check in on her and ask her how she’s feeling, don’t put her on the spot or force her to open up about it if she’s not ready.
And definitely don’t go advertising that she has postpartum depression without her permission. The last thing she wants is everyone at your office knowing about her postpartum depression and offering to help. She will be mortified if someone she barely knows confronts her about postpartum depression, no matter how good their intentions might be.
It takes time to come to terms with postpartum depression for many reasons. The more public it is, the more guilt and pressure she will feel about disappointing others.
The day will come when she will openly want to talk about it but it should be her who decides when that is.
7. Send her a text message but don’t expect a reply right away
Don’t expect her to answer the phone when you call. Better yet, don’t phone her. For someone with postpartum depression, their emotions change throughout the day without warning. Chances are, when you want to talk, won’t be when she wants to talk and vice versa.
Checking in and asking how she’s feeling is a great way to help a mother with postpartum depression. A text message will allow her to reply when SHE feels up to it. You can even include something like “you don’t have to reply right away – whenever you feel like talking, just text me.”
Postpartum depression has a way of making a new mother withdraw from society and it has nothing to do with how she feels about you.
8. Don’t force her to socialize
And don’t be offended if she doesn’t want to see you. She’s not trying to keep the baby all to herself. Going out or hosting visitors means putting on a smile and talking to people when all she wants to do is be alone. Even her inner circle can be extremely irritating.
In addition to feeling socially withdrawn, many women with postpartum depression also suffer from social anxiety. She may feel incredibly uncomfortable in public, even in small groups of close friends.
Allow her some time to avoid social interaction, and gradually work your way up to larger social gatherings.
9. Cook food for her
Appetite changes are a major symptom of postpartum depression. She will either not want to eat anything at all or not be able to stop eating. Having a fridge stocked with healthy ready-to-eat food will help her get the calories and nutrition she so desperately needs (especially if she’s breastfeeding) without all the added exhaustion of having to prepare it.
Proper diet and nutrition plays a big role in managing her symptoms, so it’s important to make sure that she has access to healthy food.
10. Clean the house but don’t make a big deal about it
Do it while she’s napping so she can’t tell you to stop. Cleaning will be the last thing on her mind but looking around at piles of laundry, overflowing garbage bins or dishes in the sink will cause her unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s one thing to tell her not to worry about the cleaning, it’s another to make the clutter magically disappear. A clutter free environment will help her mind to feel clutter-free as well.
If she’s breastfeeding, you may feel like there’s no point in getting up for night time feedings.But those dark, lonely hours can be the scariest times for a mother with postpartum depression. If for no other reason than to keep her company – get up with her. She may tell you that she’s OK and to go back to bed. But at least get up and check on her. Check if she needs anything, rub her feet or her back while she nurses.
Breastfeeding in itself can cause a lot of stress on new mothers. If you see her struggling, let her know there are online lactation courses available, so she doesn’t need to do it alone.
12. Help her find strangers to talk to
Don’t try to force her to talk to you about her feelings. Sometimes, the best way to help a mother with postpartum depression is to find someone else she can talk to. It’s much easier to talk to strangers who understand and won’t judge her. She can be completely honest and vulnerable without having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings.
Whether it’s an online forum, support group or a therapist – she will be much more comfortable talking to someone who has been in her position before and/or who has experience to share.
Not happy, dressed up, perfectly posed pictures but real pictures. Pictures of her nursing in her pajamas, pictures of her holding or sleeping beside the baby and pictures of her when she hasn’t showered in 3 days and has dried breast milk all over her shirt. Take pictures of her crying. Aim for honest pictures of her so that she can look back at them when she is better and remember this part of her life.
Reassure her that you will never show them to anyone else or post them anywhere, they are only for her.
14. Wait it out
Don’t try to rush her recovery. Helping her find the right path to recovery is important but don’t keep asking if she’s feeling better yet. If she has a good day, don’t assume she’s past the worst of it.
She may go years without an episode, only to have it triggered by stress, sleep deprivation, illness or something else entirely. Many women will battle postpartum depression for years, if not forever. So if you’re in this with her – prepare to go the lengths for her.
Know that there is no cure for mental illness, only treatment options to keep it under control.
Postpartum depression is one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in North America for a reason. Women, moms in particular, pride themselves in being able to handle it all. Admitting that they are struggling or need help is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. While these tips may help the woman in your life open up to you, nothing is ever certain when it comes to postpartum depression. Many women experience it in different ways. The best way to help a mother with postpartum depression is just to love her and support her and don’t ever give up on her.