In a time when your body and mind have gone through an epic journey of creating life, experienced the ups and downs of pregnancy, it’s only natural to expect ultimate joy and peace when you finally get to hold your baby in your arms – but that’s not always the case.
About 15% of new mothers experience Postpartum Depression (PPD) after giving birth (1) – but I’m not here to scare you, quite the opposite actually. If you or a loved one is expecting, then congratulations! Let’s take this moment to educate ourselves about the causes and effects of PPD and how we can make sure this new happy chapter stays happy.
What is postpartum depression?
• Causes of postpartum depression
There is no one clear cause of postnatal depression, however some women who have a history of mental health problems specifically depression, have experienced mental health struggles during pregnancy, feel like they don’t have a strong support system around them, and/or have suffered trauma from a recent stressful event (like the loss of a loved one) are likely to become the 1 in 10 who are affected with PPD within a year of giving birth. (2) It’s important to note that you don’t have to suffer from any of these symptoms to be diagnosed with PPD – giving birth is a life-changing event in many ways: not only physically, but emotionally, hormonally and mentally.
• Symptoms of postpartum depression
If you feel deep sadness, emptiness, fatigue, hopelessness, loss of interest in things, and negative changes in your sleeping and eating patterns, then you should seek help. If diagnosed in a timely fashion, it can be treated and managed quite well, saving you, your baby, your partner and loved ones from added strain, pain and confusion. Postpartum depression symptoms can last for around 6 months, but if left untreated, can have a long-term effect on you and your family.
• Prevention of postpartum depression
Other than maintaining as healthy a lifestyle as you possibly can and eating nourishing foods that help with your mood, there is no one specific thing that can prevent PPD. It’s important for you to seek professional help and let your Doctor know should you have a history of depression so that they can see you regularly. This is advised whether you are pregnant, have already given birth, or are thinking of having a baby.
However, there are a few self-care techniques you can try to protect yourself and your family from the baby blues. In fact, research shows that prevention interventions have a very strong effect on positively managing postpartum depression, making the occurrence of depression significantly less likely. (3)
How to deal with postpartum depression and baby blues
1. Prepare yourself for labour pain beforehand
Today, we rarely experience prolonged physical pain, and are therefore shocked when it comes to giving birth. To help prevent labour being a traumatic experience for you, ask your midwife or Doctor for support. Otherwise, studies have shown that visualisation techniques and hypnosis to be helpful for many women in preparation. (4)
2. Stay informed about postnatal depression research
Do your homework to help avoid postpartum – read articles from women who have gone through it and come out the other side, check the NHS page, ask your midwife, and speak to your Doctor to get all the information you can get. The people who care for you might not want to scare you and will tell you not to worry, so just communicate clearly that you want to know about PPD, and that psycho-education is an essential part of prevention.
3. Give your best friends/family a timeline to look out for you
Once you’ve understood what PPD looks like and what some of the underlying causes may be for you, tell your best friends or family this information and that you need their support. Tell them to keep an eye out for you during the first 3 weeks after giving birth and to have them stay near and be readily available if you need a hand, emotional support or just 30 minutes to yourself.
4. Prepare yourself with self-soothing techniques that suit you best
Create the habit of practicing mindfulness before you give birth – regular meditation, gentle exercise and breathing techniques can help to form a solid foundation within you so that you feel strong, capable and prepared. Whatever you feel most comfortable doing just be sure to make it a habit that becomes second nature, so that it is readily available when you need it most.
5. Make peace with your partner
Having a child can be one of the biggest stressors on a relationship. The responsibility, lack of sleep, life changes, and the shifting of attention away from the relationship towards the child can strain any happy couple, but can be devastating on an already troubled one. Make sure that you and your partner are willing to see a counsellor, or someone whom you both trust, to help mend and/or strengthen your bond. Men can get PPD too, so make sure to share your knowledge with your male partner. (5)
6. Create a schedule and stick to it
Once the baby arrives, everything changes. Every child is different and will have different needs and care requirements, so it’s important to make adjustments and focus on both what you and your child both require in the first few weeks to understand how to organise yourself. You will feel less overwhelmed and stressed if you are prepared – for example to make sure the meals are pre-cooked, that you have a maternity nurse or family member who can help you out in the beginning or can be on call should you need them, and enough essentials at the ready so that you are never caught off guard.
7. Take turns to get enough rest and sleep
Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest factors of postnatal depression. ‘Happy Hormones’ will only get you so far before your body will demand sleep. Discuss taking turns to sleep with your partner and/or your supporter so that you can get enough hours for you to feel sane! This may mean that you have to make compromises but you will both figure out what sort of sleep schedule works for you all.
8. Be compassionate with yourself
Movies and TV have warped society’s expectation toward motherhood and birth. You might be waiting for the tears of joy, the overwhelming love and the feeling of being a mother. Some women experience it, some don’t. If you don’t feel like crying of joy every time you lay eyes on your newborn, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. Your love might be more quiet, but no less real or deep.
If you experience prolonged difficulties to bond with your child, feel the symptoms of baby blues or are concerned with your mental health history, please don’t be ashamed to ask your Doctor and support system for help. The earlier you speak up, the quicker and easier it will be able to manage and prevent PPD from getting stronger, keeping you happier and healthier for longer as a new mother.