Follow (and share) this recipe for a happier, healthier, more confident mom with less anxiety in terms of parenting ability:
- Get adequate social (emotional/practical) support (inc. guidance, reassurance, breastfeeding assistance) – particularly important for the first-time mother – this support network should be lined up prior to childbirth (family, friends, a postpartum doula, baby nurse, housecleaner)
- Get adequate rest by taking breaks during the day and 4-5 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night (to allow for REM sleep needed in recovery from childbirth)
- Spend time outside once daily, even if only for 5 minutes
- Get good nutrition high in protein, plenty of water, Omega-3 fatty acids*
The last ingredient deserves separate mention: AWARENESS. Awareness of what postpartum depression (PPD) is (it’s NOT the same thing as the blues, first of all), its symptoms, its causes (biochemical, emotional), risk factors, treatment options (medication, therapy), etc.
* Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found mostly in certain oily fish like salmon and tuna. Research has shown they are critical for proper brain development and neurological function in infants. Research has also shown that, the higher the intake of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one of these fatty acids, the lower the incidence of clinical depression. Studies have also shown that there is a correlation between levels of DHA in breast milk and PPD (i.e., higher levels of DHA usually meant lower incidence of PPD). Studies have also shown that the fetus derives nutrients including DHA via the placenta, leaving a pregnant woman already low on DHA more susceptible to depression. Bottom line, there is a correlation between PPD and a low dietary intake of DHA, so expectant and new moms may be able to reduce their chances of having PPD, while at the same time improve their baby’s neurological development, by taking Omega-3 supplements.
AWARENESS WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD
Be sure to read up on PPD…..after all, information is empowering. This will help reduce the risk of isolation and despair if you do in fact succumb to PPD. Simply by avoiding the topic–like throwing out literature about it during childbirth or childcare prep classes–doesn’t automatically mean you will not get PPD. Remember, approximately 1 out of 8 mothers–or 15% of all mothers–succumb to PPD. That statistic should help you realize that this isn’t just talk. IT’S REALITY.
Nowadays, whenever I encounter women that are pregnant for the first time and admit to not knowing a thing about babies and try to give them advice from the perspective of someone who’s had PPD, I can swear I could see a flicker of denial cross over their faces. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s almost like how I felt whenever I saw a reference to PPD while I was still pregnant. I’d ignore it, thinking “Nah, that would never happen to me. I would never let it.”
Here’s the issue. During childbirth/childcare prep classes, the instructor may (or may not) mention the words “postpartum depression” and how some women develop it. They may (or may not) give you a handout about PPD, but you choose subconsciously to ignore it because you think that it couldn’t possibly happen to you. It’s only natural for pregnant women to not want to hear about anything that could go wrong during the postpartum period. They may have enough pregnancy-related concerns as it is, with things like nausea, discomfort, difficulty sleeping, getting everything ready for the baby’s arrival, spotting, cramping, bloating, preeclampsia, bed rest to prevent premature birth, etc. After all, who wants to think of the possibility of negative feelings when having a baby is supposed to be such a joyous and miraculous occasion? I have to admit that I fell under the category of denial that PPD would even happen to me. It’s like, everytime someone tries to tell you about PPD, that invisible shield goes up so you don’t have to listen. It’s natural to deal with concerns as they arise, rather than worry about something that more than likely would not happen anyway. But remember, a cross-that-bridge-when-you-get-to-it mentality won’t help you if, once you cross that bridge, PPD hits you like a ton of bricks—suddenly and quite mercilessly.
Don’t be like me. I believed I wouldn’t let PPD happen to me. So, when it did, I didn’t know what was happening to me. The symptoms caught me totally off-guard. And believe me, being ignorant and unprepared for it causes unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt and inability to appreciate the baby to which you just gave birth. What all new moms-to-be should be advised is, despite how we may not believe PPD would ever happen to you, it doesn’t hurt to be educated about PPD and prepared for the possibility it could happen to you. Believe me, it pays to be prepared for the possibility no matter how small!
IT PAYS TO BE PREPARED FOR THE POSSIBILITY
Everyone is unique. Everyone’s needs are unique to the individual. The more “in tune” you are to your needs, the better off you will be (the quicker you will seek treatment if you know you are not yourself and need help). You will also be better off planning ahead and becoming knowledgeable about PPD, even if you think it is unlikely you will be unfortunate enough to fall victim to it.
You may wonder if there’s any way to avoid getting PPD if you are at risk for it, such as following certain preventive measures. The answer unfortunately is No. There is no foolproof way to prevent it from occurring. There are, however, things you can do to reduce your risk and your chances for developing it. A proactive step in the right direction is reading up on PPD to learn about PPD, its symptoms, its causes, risk factors, treatment options, etc. Understanding what PPD is and being able to recognize symptoms will empower you to seek treatment earlier and spend less time suffering.
Buffer yourself from additional stressors that will ultimately tip the scale toward PPD. What I mean by buffer is to avoid any significant changes in your lifestyle, such as moving/relocating, since having a baby is already going to have a huge impact on your life as it is. Find ways to help yourself get through the first postpartum weeks by getting as much help as possible. If you haven’t a clue how to care for a baby, there is nothing wrong with leaning on someone who has experience. That’s, after all, what social support is all about and is what many other countries practice, even today.
Regardless of whether depression runs in your family, it will be worthwhile to prepare for the possibility that you may experience PPD by following the recipe above before you become pregnant or, at the latest, before you have your baby–in addition to lining up a medical and/or mental health practitioner that is a right match for you. A PPD support group will be a plus. Those can be hard to find locally.