Postpartum depression can be hard to recognize and often goes undiagnosed.
If you think you have postpartum depression, it usually means you’ve noticed that something just isn’t right. This is a great first step, and perhaps the most important. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough information or conversations happening about postpartum depression among new and expecting mothers. So they’re not all to blame for not knowing the signs and symptoms.
If you think you have postpartum depression, here are some of the first steps you should take.
Perform a self assessment
You may be used to relying on a doctor, nurse, midwife or doula for treatment during your pregnancy and afterwards. But it’s a little bit different when it comes to mental illness. Unlike physical illnesses, there is no blood test to determine if you have postpartum depression. The standard questionnaires that you fill out after giving birth are designed for more extreme cases and they don’t give you a chance to express how you really feel.
So instead of simply rating how you feel on a scale of 1 – 10, sit down with a pen and paper and perform a more detailed self assessment.
- Keep track of your sleeping and eating habits over the course of at least one week or more.
- Write out all the thoughts you’ve had, whether they were welcome or not.
- Keep a calendar of your social activities and make note of how you felt being around people.
- Document your mood changes in detail, either with a journal or mood tracker.
- Take note of your connection and relationship with your baby, your other children and your significant other.
- Focus on your energy levels. Have they significantly decreased or increased?
- Write down anything and everything that you feel might have changed or is out of the ordinary for you.
After a week or two of taking notes, go back and look it over. Look for anything that might be a red flag or that seemed really out of character for you. If you feel comfortable enough, share your notes with a loved one or your doctor or therapist.
To make it easy for you, you can download and fill out a printable PDF Postpartum Depression Self Assessment Workbook, available in the Postpartum Depression Free Resource Library.
Initiate lifestyle changes
Adjusting to life with a new baby is tough for everyone. Just because you don’t quite feel like yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that you have postpartum depression. Before you think the worst, see if it will go away with a few lifestyle changes.
If you haven’t had the chance to sleep for longer than a 3 hour interval since giving birth, then consider getting some help. Ask your spouse or a family member to watch the baby while you sleep. Hire a postpartum doula or nurse for an overnight shift. If baby’s sleep habits are keeping you up, consider sleep training or hiring a sleep training consultant.
Try yoga, meditation, aromatherapy or another natural remedy to help with mood swings, anxiety or intrusive thoughts. Focus on eating healthier and make time to socialize and connect with your spouse and baby. Spend some time initiating these simple changes into your life and take note of whether they’ve made a difference in your overall mood.
Click here to get the full version of this Postpartum Depression Self Assessment Workbook in the Free Resource Library.
Speak to a Professional
If you’ve completed a self assessment, made some lifestyle changes and still haven’t noticed an improvement, then it’s time to speak to a professional. This is the part that most women avoid because the mere thought of admitting it can be terrifying. But because you’ve done your self assessment, you can feel confident walking into your doctor’s office with proof of what you’ve been going through over the past few weeks. Plus, there are more options that you think when it comes to who to talk to:
- A Doctor (OBGYN, family doctor)
- A Therapist/Psychiatrist (including Online Therapy*)
- A Midwife/Doula
- A Nurse Practitioner
- A Postpartum Support Helpline
*If you’re interested in trying online therapy, check out this detailed review of online therapy companies to help you decide.
Once you have a treatment plan in place, it’s a good idea to find a support group to help you through it. You don’t need to battle postpartum depression alone. Your medical professional may be able to recommend a local group that you can attend. Or you can join a Facebook support group or download an anonymous chat app like CARA Unmask. Speaking to other women who know what you are going through is so helpful and important to your recovery.
Postpartum depression will not go away on it’s own after the postpartum period is over. As your baby grows older and some of the challenges such as sleep deprivation and breastfeeding become easier, the symptoms may ease up. If you are on prescription antidepressants to treat your symptoms, then make sure to speak to your doctor about stopping them. Stopping antidepressants abruptly can cause side effects. Slowly weaning off of them is usually best.
But even if you stop taking the antidepressants and attending therapy sessions, you should always take care of your mental health to try to avoid suffering a postpartum depression relapse. Self care should become your number one priority, including things like eating right and getting enough sleep. Remember that your mental health will always be in a more delicate state, even when you start to feel better.
What NOT To Do
Do NOT wait!
Don’t ignore the symptoms or brush them off as no big deal. The worst thing you can do when it comes to postpartum depression is to do nothing because untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. No matter how strong you think you might be, don’t ever underestimate mental illness and the damage it can do.