Postpartum Depression: What It Is & What to Do About It
Having a baby is an amazing, life-changing experience — whether it’s your first child or your eighth. But for many new mothers, it comes with a unique set of challenges.
After giving birth, as many as 80 percent of new mothers deal with the “baby blues” — which includes mood swings and feelings of sadness.
In most cases, these emotions dissipate after a few days or a few weeks. But for as many as 15 percent of new mothers, the negative feelings don’t go away and ultimately end up worsening, leading them to develop a condition called postpartum depression.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression, is a depressive condition that impacts some new mothers. For this group, it’s a side effect or complication of giving birth that impacts the way they see the world and process their lives after giving birth.
While those who suffer from the baby blues feel mood swings, anxiety, and sadness, new mothers with postpartum depression feel each of these emotions severely. They also have a hard time bonding with the baby, struggle to think clearly, withdraw from friends and family, and are concerned about their ability to raise a well-adjusted child as a new parent. After going through major life changes, some also become anxious, frustrated, and irritable.
How Can You Avoid Postpartum Depression?
While you can’t necessarily avoid postpartum depression altogether, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood it happens.
For example, new mothers are more like to suffer from postnatal depression if they’ve previously suffered from depression, have a history of mental illness in their families, or experience trauma during their pregnancy (e.g., one of their parents dies).
Postpartum depression is also more likely to impact new parents who abuse drugs and alcohol, were unsure about whether to have a baby in the first place, or don’t have a solid support system in place (e.g., no family and no financial security).
Given these risks factors, here are some steps you can take to increase the chances you’ll avoid postpartum depression:
- Staying as healthy as you can with a good diet, lots of exercise, and good sleep,
- Planning out your pregnancy and making sure you absolutely want to have a baby and are ready for major life changes, and
- Doing your best to build up a support system so you have fewer things to worry about after you give birth and have friends and family to lend a helping hand.
Even if you have everything planned out perfectly and are ready for the next chapter, you may still end up with postpartum depression. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
How to Treat Postpartum Depression
Now that you have a better idea of what postnatal depression is and some ways to avoid it, let’s examine some of the tactics you can employ to overcome this condition and become the best new mother you can possibly be.
1. Prioritize your own feelings
As a new parent, you’re going to be laser-focused on the needs of your baby. That’s perfectly normal. But when you’re dealing with postpartum depression, it’s critical that you spend more time on your own feelings and emotions.
At the end of the day, it’s perfectly okay to ask your partner, friends, or family if they wouldn’t mind chipping in to help a bit while you focus on improving yourself. After all, when you’re suffering postnatal depression, it’s impossible for you to be the best parent you can be.
By prioritizing your feelings, you can start to overcome this depression — and become a better parent because of it.
2. Accept your new reality and make the most of it
You’ve had a baby. Whether it’s your first child or not, the fact of the matter is that your life is still going to change. Plus, your body has been through a lot of changes throughout your pregnancy and delivery. That’s a lot to deal with, and adjusting isn’t always easy.
The sooner you start to accept your new reality, the faster you’ll be able to make the most out of it. It might seem hard or even impossible, but try to embrace this new chapter of life and continue growing as a human.
3. Improve your diet and exercise more
If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, do what you can to improve your diet and exercise more. You’ll want to add fruits, vegetables, and good proteins to the mix, and you should try to stay as active as you can without overdoing it. Taken together, this will help your body heal.
Don’t forget about liquids, either. Breastfeeding mothers should drink 12 to 14 glasses of water to stay hydrated and ensure the baby gets enough milk.
4. Seek support from therapy and a larger community
It’s not uncommon for parents experiencing postpartum depression to feel isolated and alone (more on this in a bit). Instead of going through this process on your own, consider looking for a therapist who can help you navigate this phase of life. You might also find local support groups that can also help you confront and conquer the challenges you’re dealing with.
Additional Mental Health Challenges That Can Come with a New Baby
Unfortunately, postnatal depression isn’t the only condition that new mothers might experience after giving birth. With that in mind, here are some other mental health challenges that new parents often work with therapists to move past.
With babies waking up for feeding throughout the night, it comes as no surprise that many new mothers have problems getting a good night’s sleep.
After holding a baby all day long, some new parents experience touch overload — the feeling that you just want to be left alone by yourself and given space to stretch.
When you’re stuck at home with a baby all day — and up with the baby all night — you can become isolated as your partner goes to work and your friends and family members do activities you might not be able to (e.g., see a concert).
Building on that idea, new mothers need to adjust to many lifestyle changes. For example, you might have to leave your job, stop going to the gym, and spend less time with your friends. Adapting to these kinds of sweeping changes can be difficult for even the most confident new parents.
Adjusting to having a tiny new human in your life can be hard — even if you aren’t experiencing PPD. But you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Reach out to a therapist today to get the help you need to respond positively to this major life change.
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