In movies and TV shows, post-birth life is made out to be a magical, enlightening experience.
But that’s not everyone’s experience. Following childbirth, it’s common for new moms to experience:
- Extreme and persistent sadness
- Difficulty with everyday tasks
- Trouble bonding with their baby
- Feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness
After having a child, you go through an enormous life change. Everything is different; your body, your daily routine, and your biggest concerns. Understandably, your mental health is different, too.
Postpartum depression (which occurs after giving birth) and perinatal depression (which occurs before or after giving birth) are surprisingly common. In the USA, 1 in 8 women experience postpartum depression following a live birth.
Postpartum depression does not affect all women equally. One study found that PPD is more likely to occur in women of color.
But here’s the good news: Postpartum depression is treatable.
Are you noticing signs and symptoms of postpartum depression? We’re going to cover a few things you can do right now to treat it:
Talk to Your Doctor
Postpartum depression is not your fault. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good mom or that you don’t love your baby enough.
It’s a medical condition.
There are pregnancy options and support available that can help you recover from PPD. A doctor can assess your symptoms, determine if they’re caused by PPD or another medical condition, and identify the best course of treatment to help you recover. A few common treatments for postpartum depression include:
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants can increase the levels of different neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin. Be sure to let your doctor know if you are breastfeeding, which may affect your treatment options.
- Talk therapy. Set aside the time to set up depression counseling with a therapist in your area. Consider trying cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you identify negative thought patterns so you can change the way you think.
Talking to your doctor can be intimidating. As a mother, you might feel pressure to be invincible; as though you must be the perfect parent for your child.
But admitting that you’re struggling with depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, because it’s the first step on the path to feeling better.
Stay Connected to Your Supports
If you know any other moms, chances are they’ve also experienced postpartum depression or know someone who has. Talk to the people you’re close with about their experiences. Doing so can help show you that it’s not your fault and that support is available.
Aside from the personal connections in your life, you can also join a support group. Search online for postpartum depression support groups in your area.
Set Aside Time for Yourself
After childbirth, “me time” is a foreign concept. It’s hard enough to find time to shower, let alone check in with yourself.
You’ve spent your whole life taking care of yourself. Now, you have another little person to look after, and your needs are falling by the wayside. It’s no wonder you feel so burnt out, stressed, and exhausted.
During that time, take care of your needs. Catch up on your favorite show. Listen to a new album you’ve been waiting to hear (or an old favorite). Or take a nap!
Try to make time for yourself at least once a week. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself burning out and losing motivation.
Get Back Into Exercise
You might be thinking to yourself, “But I don’t have time to exercise!” As a new mom, you need to get creative about how to incorporate physical activity back into your life.
One way to get active is to take your baby with you on walks. Put your baby in a stroller, bundle up if it’s chilly outside, and go for a slow walk around the neighborhood. The exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous; getting sunlight, fresh air, and moving your legs can help change your state of mind.
If weather conditions aren’t favorable, try downloading a home workout app. Squeeze in a 10 or 15-minute home yoga or workout the next time your baby takes a nap. A little movement goes a long way.
If you’re trying to avoid negative thoughts and feelings, you might try to fill your day with activity. Even when your baby sleeps, you spend time on your phone, watching shows, or otherwise distracting yourself.
Your personal time is limited, so it’s important to make use of it as best you can. Instead, set aside the time to be present with yourself. It’s important to slow down and take inventory of how you’re doing.
Even small changes can have a significant impact on how you’re doing, mentally and physically. Self-care doesn’t have to be fancy; sometimes, it’s just about meeting your basic needs, which often go overlooked when you’re caring for a baby.
A few ways to put self-care back into your life include:
- Eat often. When you’re caring for a child, it’s hard to find the time to prepare entire meals. Instead, try to snack throughout the day. You can keep your kitchen stocked with easy and nutritious snacks; granola bites, pre-chopped veggies, cubed or sliced cheese, and ingredients for a quick sandwich. These snacks will give you the fuel you need to keep going without making a ton of dishes.
- Drink plenty of water. Water is great for your overall health. But it’s easy to forget to stay hydrated–the signs aren’t as obvious as hunger. If you aren’t drinking enough water, you may feel tired or dizzy. To remind yourself to drink water, try to keep a bottle nearby at all times. Choose a bottle that holds 2 liters (or 9 cups) of water, and try to drink all of it each day.
- Avoid alcohol. Did you know that alcohol is a depressant? Even though it can lift your mood when first consumed, it can lead to depression once it wears off. Drugs and alcohol can worsen the symptoms of PPD; try to avoid them.
As a parent, your main concerns are whether your baby’s needs are being met. Did they eat enough? Are they sleeping well? Do they have any health issues?
But it’s also important to spend time bonding with your baby. This can help you deal with thoughts about not loving your baby enough or feeling like an inadequate parent.
Skin-to-skin contact is one way to do this. Cradle your baby against your chest with a warm blanket, and spend time cuddling. You can also look into their eyes and smile at them, or speak to them in a happy tone of voice.
If your baby has an upset tummy or can’t fall asleep, you can give them a baby massage. You can apply gentle pressure to their feet, forehead, or their back. These simple gestures will help you feel more connected to your baby.
Maybe you expected that things would “come naturally” to you after the birth of your child; that life as a new mom would be full of happiness and that you’d instantly fall in love with your baby. But life as a new parent is full of surprises–PPD can be one of them.
If you’re overly critical of yourself, we’re willing to bet that you’d never talk to someone else the same way you talk to yourself.
Try this exercise: Imagine that you were having a conversation with a good friend. They begin to explain their problem to you–which is actually your problem–and are seeking your advice. What would you tell them?
You’d probably reassure them that just because they’re struggling with PPD doesn’t make them bad mothers. You’d tell them to reach out to loved ones for assistance. And you’d tell them that you love and care about them.
Now, apply that same kindness to how you treat yourself.
Remember: PPD is not your fault. And without treatment, it rarely goes away on its own.
You don’t have to go through it alone. Lean on the people around you for support and seek help from a doctor or counselor. We hope these resources help guide you toward the support you need.