Understanding postpartum depression
The period after you have your baby can be filled with countless emotions. You may feel anything from joy to fear to sadness. If your feelings of sadness become severe and start to interfere with your everyday life, you may be experiencing postpartum depression (PPD).
Symptoms usually start within a few weeks of delivery, though they may develop up to six months afterward. They may include mood swings, trouble bonding with your baby, and difficulty thinking or making decisions.
If you feel like you may be depressed, you aren’t alone. Approximately 1 in 7 women in the United States develop PPD.
The most effective way to diagnose and treat PPD is by visiting your doctor. They can evaluate your symptoms and devise the best treatment plan for you. You may benefit from psychotherapy, antidepressants, or some combination of both.
There are also things you can do at home to help cope with everyday life. Keep reading for more on how to deal with PPD.
1. Create time for yourself
You may feel stuck on the couch breast-feeding. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by work, household responsibilities, or your older children. Instead of dealing with these stresses alone, reach out for help. Take up your mother-in-law on her offer of free babysitting. Let your partner or another trusted adult take the baby for an hour or two.
You may find it helpful to schedule some dedicated “me time” once a week. Even if you can only get out of the house between nursing sessions, you can use this time to decompress. Go on a walk, take a nap, go to a movie, or do some yoga and meditation.
2. Exercise when you can
Researchers in Australia explain that exercise may have an antidepressant effect for women with PPD. In particular, walking with baby in a stroller might be an easy way to get in some steps and breathe fresh air. In a study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity, walking was found to be a statistically significant way to ease depression.
Can’t fit in a long exercise session? Try working out for 10 minutes a few times during the day. Fitness Blender is a good resource for short, simple workouts that you can do without any equipment.
3. Make time to rest
You’ve probably been told to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” This advice may get annoying after a while, but it’s rooted in science. A 2009 report details how women who got the least sleep also experienced the most depressive symptoms. In particular, this applied to women who clocked fewer than four hours of sleep between midnight and 6 a.m. or fewer than 60 minutes of napping throughout the day.
In the early days, your baby likely isn’t sleeping through the night. You may find it helpful to take naps or go to bed early. If you’re breast-feeding, consider pumping a bottle so your partner can take care of an overnight feeding or two.
4. Maintain a healthy diet
Healthy eating alone won’t cure PPD. Still, getting into the habit of eating nutritious foods can help you feel better and give your body the nutrients you need. Try planning the week’s meals on the weekend and even preparing healthy snacks ahead of time. Think whole foods, such as chopped carrots and cubed cheese or apple slices and peanut butter, that are easy to grab on the go.
5. Focus on fish oils
Now is also a good time to beef up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA. According to an article published by the Journal of Affective Disorders, women who have low levels of DHA have higher rates of postpartum depression.
Seafood is an excellent dietary source of DHA. If you’re a vegetarian, flaxseed oil is another great source. You can also find supplements at your local grocery store.
6. Examine your breast-feeding
A 2012 study suggests that breast-feeding may reduce your risk of developing PPD. This supposed protection may extend all the way to the fourth month after delivery. If nursing is something you enjoy, keep at it.
That being said, there are some cases where women develop depression symptoms while breast-feeding. This condition is called Dysmorphic Milk Ejection Reflex or D-MER. With D-MER, you might experience sudden feelings of sadness, agitation, or anger that last several minutes after your milk lets down.
In the end, choose the feeding method that feels right to you.
7. Resist isolation
The days may blend together, making you feel isolated at times. A study published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry shows that talking about your feelings with others can help shift your mood. Researchers discovered that new mothers had lower levels of depression after regularly speaking with experienced mothers who had previously experienced PPD. These results extended to four weeks and then eight weeks after delivery.
Although the peer mothers in this study had specific training on how to give phone support, the power of social interaction is undeniable. Try your best to get out or at least chat with other adults and moms for support.
When to see your doctor
Although many women experience the “baby blues” in the first several weeks following delivery, PPD is marked by deeper and longer-lasting feelings of sadness and agitation. These feelings can get worse and become chronic depression without medical help.
It’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor if you notice feelings of depression after birth, especially if they don’t fade after a couple weeks or get worse with time. Only around 15 percent of women ever seek treatment for their symptoms, despite the importance of treatment. Your doctor can point you in the right direction to get the support you need.
Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for PPD. This involves speaking with a mental health professional about your thoughts and feelings. In your sessions, you can work on ways to cope and solve problems. You can also set goals and find ways to deal with different situations so that you feel better and more in control.
In more severe cases, your doctor may also suggest antidepressants. These medications may enter your breast milk, but are generally considered safe for women who breast-feed. If you have any concerns about this, speak with your doctor. They can help you weigh the potential benefits and risks.
Developing a support network
You may find comfort in confiding in a close friend or family member. If you don’t want to share your feelings with people you know, there are other places you can reach out to for support.
- Call your obstetrician, midwife, or another healthcare provider.
- Contact your minister or another leader in your faith community.
- Ask around about any local support groups for PPD.
- Chat online with other moms in forums like Postpartum Progress.
- Call the anonymous PSI postpartum depression hotline at 800-944-4773.
PPD is treatable. Many women see their symptoms improve in six months.
Call your doctor immediately if you feel disoriented or confused, have obsessive thoughts about your baby, feel paranoid, or experience hallucinations. These are signs of a more severe condition called postpartum psychosis.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming your baby, call your local emergency services.