Ask any person about what the process of giving birth is all about, and you are likely to get a variety of answers ranging from “the miracle of life”, a “privilege”, or an extremely “testing” situation that many women have to deal with. Although birth is indeed a fantastic experience for many women (and their partners, to an extent), it is also one that can leave you feeling extremely overwhelmed.
Birth is a significant trauma for women: our bodies change completely, and the human being we have been growing and getting close to for the past nine months is now a part of the outside world. While some mothers may feel in awe and absorbed by the joy of having brought a newborn to life, other mothers struggle significantly with mental health challenges after giving birth. Postpartum depression is one of the most common instances that occurs with women who have just given birth, and so this article aims to help you navigate through this, first by acknowledging the symptoms and then accessing the right help. Before we start, it’s important to mention that the tips provided in this article are focused on self-care. With postpartum depression, it is crucial that you reach out to a professional.
The first signs of postpartum depression occur within the first four weeks following birth. You may feel like you are struggling to sleep – although this may be difficult to differentiate from the usual fatigue one gets from being a new parent. Or, perhaps you’ll notice that your appetite changes, and that you struggle more than usual to find the motivation or will to eat anything. Perhaps you’ll notice that you have severe fatigue that doesn’t go away when you sleep. For example, you may feel like every task you need to get done is too exhausting to even get started. This could come with mood changes as well. However, these are often experienced by most women following childbirth, the difference with Postpartum Depression (or PPD) is that you experience more intense feelings.
For example, and this is something that affects numerous women, you may feel guilty because you feel as though you are not bonding with your baby, or like you lack interest in your baby. Maybe you’re asking yourself What’s wrong with me? I am supposed to love this child, and yet whenever he screams, I can’t help but feel angry or uninterested! These thoughts tend to leave women feeling guilty about the sentiments they have towards their newborn. Another tell-tale sign is crying frequently, and usually for no reason. You may feel angry, cranky, or may find very little pleasure in the things you usually enjoy. Perhaps you feel worthless, hopeless, and helpless, even if you are surrounded by help. In very severe cases – again, please consult a professional –, you may be having thoughts of death or suicide or of hurting yourself.
Importantly, there are steps you can take to make changes to this. Although there are risks that you suffer from PPD if your family has a history of mental illness or if you have a prior history of mental illness yourself, you can still take steps to alleviate the symptoms of the disorder.
First, consider reaching out for help. I know, I know, it sounds like I’m pushing you away and telling you to speak to a counsellor, and, well yes, that’s what I am doing! Dealing with symptoms of depression as a new mother can affect you, your partner, as well as your child’s health and development. Although you may feel resentment now, you will feel much more resentment if you don’t take the steps to get past the depression and notice the effects it has had on your child later on. Similarly, speaking to someone who is in an impartial situation can truly help you deal with your own negative perspective of the situation. Having a professional in front of you listening to your problems and your feelings can help you feel like you are not just a mother who must dedicate all her time to a newborn – instead, you are a woman who has a child and who needs support.
In terms of self-care, you should take care of yourself as much as possible when you feel under the weather. Working on your expectations of yourself as a mother can already go a long way. For example, reminding yourself that you are doing your best can help get rid of the guild. Similarly, exercising can help you overcome feelings of self-hatred as the negative self-esteem is replaced by feel-good hormones. Of course, only exercise to your capacity! Just going out for a walk may feel exhausting, but you should still give it a shot. Self-care also means being careful of what you put in your body. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can worsen the feelings you are dealing with. Understand that you will have good and bad days, and have a system in place to help you deal with the bad days in a way that doesn’t feel self-destructive. For example, many women have mentioned that journaling works well for them as a way to share their feelings in a way that isn’t intrusive or that isn’t shown to other people. Journaling allows many women to cope with PPD at their own pace. Mindfulness has also proven to be useful, alongside yoga and taking enough time to truly self-care.
Naturally, coping with PPD is a difficult affair. You may feel tempted to stay isolated and away from others as much as possible. Nonetheless, keeping in touch with your friends and family and avoiding isolation is important as a way to deal with postpartum depression. Sleep as much as possible, ideally when the baby is sleeping, and take care of yourself. You are the most important person to take care of – without a healthy mom, your baby can’t thrive either. So, make sure to take care of yourself so you can take care of your mini-you.