Having a baby can be an exciting and joyful time, but it can also be stressful. New responsibilities along with physical and hormonal changes can create emotional upheaval, either during pregnancy or after birth. Often these “baby blues” last only a few weeks, but if they persist, or if your symptoms are severe, you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). While you live and/or work in the bustle of New York City, it can also be isolating.
The first thing to know about PPD is that it is not a reflection on you as a person. The powerful physical changes you have endured affect hormones that can create negative emotional responses. The second thing to know is that it is common and can be alleviated.
Be sure to seek support, through your medical doctor, a mother’s support group, or a counselor trained in helping women who are experiencing postpartum depression. Regardless of the severity of your symptoms, there are several things you should do to speed your recovery.
Maintain social interaction. Do not isolate yourself, no matter how you feel, because isolation can worsen feelings of depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and loneliness. Reach out to family and friends and tell them how you are feeling. Those who love you will want to help lighten your burden. If your circle of friends is small, connect with a mom’s support group or a PPD support group.
Eat healthy, nutritious meals, avoiding alcohol, which has a depressive effect. Some studies suggest women low in DHA are more prone to PPD, so consider an omega-3 supplement after getting the ok from your physician.
Exercise. This could be as simple as taking the dog for a walk or pushing the baby in a stroller through the park. Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol while it elevates endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relievers and mood lifters. Sunshine provides vitamin D, which is a mood enhancer, and studies suggest that being in nature can decrease symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
Get sleep and take “me” time. One of the hardest times to get a good night sleep is when there is a newborn in the house. But sleep deprivation is known to adversely affect moods. Tap into your network of friends and family for helpers, or nap when the baby naps. Again, activate that help network so that you can get away from baby care from time to time and do something fun that refreshes your mind and replenishes your soul. Even a short break can be enough to rebuild your stamina and mood.
Cuddle with your baby. If you are not feeling very bonded right now, this may be difficult, but physical, skin-to-skin touch can help stimulate the hormones in your brain that will help you bond. The baby needs your touch, your gentle voice, your smile. He or she will be more easily soothed in the future by experiencing your physical connection now, and you will likely recover faster, as well.
Check your breastfeeding. For many women, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of PPD, but in some cases, women experience sadness or agitation when their milk releases. This can last for several minutes, so if you notice this, recognize it is hormonally triggered, not a reaction to your baby or your motherhood.
Taking care of yourself is always important, but when you are suffering from anxiety, depression, exhaustion, or other negative symptoms associated with PPD, it can take a great deal of effort. If you feel able to make the effort, you will find the symptoms begin to decrease. If the effort feels too great, seek help right away. With help from a trained therapist, you can get through this trying time.