Here are some of the To Do’s I’d highly recommend to help reduce the likelihood that postpartum depression (PPD) will rear its ugly head (gee, I sure wish I had known all this BEFORE I had my baby!):
- Get a minimum number (i.e., 5) of uninterrupted hours of sleep a night (topic of my next post)
- Avoid being alone
- Get out of the house once daily
AVOID BEING ALONE
Do meet up with friends occasionally for coffee or lunch, or have them come over. Forget about how messy the house is. It would be in your best interest to talk to someone in person too on a daily basis, and if that’s not for whatever reason feasible, be sure to maintain contact with at least one person on the phone on a daily basis. If you don’t happen to have any friends who have babies too that you can talk to and share your experiences with, you should try to join a new mother’s group. This is not a time to lose touch with close friends, even if they don’t have children and you feel as though you’d have nothing to talk about.
Historically, for the first month or so postpartum, women in the community (extended family, friends, neighbors) used to educate the new mom on what to expect, provide breastfeeding support, address questions and concerns as they come up, and basically help to ease the transition to motherhood. They would take care of everything around the house, allowing the new mother to recover from childbirth, get the rest that she needed and focus on taking care of and bonding with her baby.
Today, extended family members do not necessarily live close by and with partners off to work all day, the kind of support the new mother needs is often not feasible. With lack of guidance, emotional/practical support and role models, it’s no wonder first-time mothers are anxious and lacking self confidence. Not having had the opportunity to recover and rest up from childbirth, she finds herself alone with the baby during the day, anxious, exhausted and overwhelmed.
You may wonder, then, what you can do to make a positive difference in the postpartum period? While you are still pregnant, reach out to friends and family members to provide practical support (like help watching the baby, cooking, laundry, housework, errands) and emotional support (someone who can listen to you, provide advice and be empathetic and nonjudgmental) after the baby arrives. Believe me, after the baby arrives, you will have neither the time nor the energy to search and coordinate. If family and friends are not options and if finances allow, consider hiring a postpartum doula as an investment in your physical and mental wellbeing. If you cannot afford a doula, then see if there is a new mom’s group in the vicinity. Not sure how to find one? Check out the National Association of Mothers’ Centers for a group near you. Definitely something all expectant moms should check out!
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE ONCE DAILY
Do get out of the house once a day for fresh air and sunlight. All you need to do is, literally, step outside your house or apartment building—whether it’d be on your stoop, porch or deck. You don’t need to pretty yourself up to do this. Step outside, look up at the sky, and with your arms in a Y formation, take 10 slow, deep breaths. If you’ve taken yoga before, now’s the time to use some yoga moves. If you feel up to it, put a yoga DVD on and try to follow it. See a recent Postpartum Progress post on the benefits of yoga.
A change of scenery and getting out of the house can help ward off claustrophobia and the sensation that the walls are closing in on you. It is common for a depressed person to resist going outdoors, feeling too depressed, unmotivated and/or tired to leave the house. This is especially true in the winter (unless of course you live in a state that has no real winter to speak of, like California and Florida). Unless it’s just to take the baby for a walk around the block a few times, any other trips can seem like too much trouble for a mom who feels easily overwhelmed and not able to organize her thoughts too well. Having to figure out what needs to be packed up on a simple errand can be overwhelming.
This is what happened to me when I stayed in my house (also in the dead of winter, which didn’t help) for the entire duration of my maternity leave….
It’s not just a saying when folks around you say that “fresh air will do you good.” Whenever my mother-in-law told me to go out a few times a week, and that fresh air will do me good, I just responded with “Uh huh…I will” without ever making an attempt to follow her advice. I didn’t realized the value of that advice until about 6 weeks after I started to take Paxil and was well on my road to recovery from PPD.
As each postpartum day went by, I felt more and more withdrawn, and more and more out of touch from the real world. With no set, daily routine like I was accustomed to (i.e., my daily commute to NYC to work), it was hard to differentiate between one day and the next. All the days seemed to blend into each other.
I felt constantly overwhelmed at the thought of future doctor exams, and the seemingless endless varieties of clothes and what seemed at the time to be countless baby paraphernalia I had to worry about getting my daughter, including undershirts that were just the shirt with no bottom to short-sleeve and long-sleeve one-piece undershirts that included buttons in the crotch for ease in changing diapers to footed or footless outfits and sleepers that zip or button down the front to the feet, bottles and nipples, diapers, wipes, and formula and baby food to pick from and stock up on.
Sometimes when I went outside for a walk around the block, just to get air, on the advice of my mother-in-law, I felt like I wanted to stay out and never go back into the house where I felt like a prisoner, confined and claustrophobic.
Sometimes when I stepped outside, I’d feel overwhelmed by the lack of walls around me, like I was going to get lost in all that space. It felt weird on the few occasions I was willing to go out. I felt unsteady and like I was having an out-of-body experience whenever I went out to the drug store, grocery store, or Babies R Us……or even to visit relatives for Chinese New Year. I think it was just from staying in the confined space of the house for so long, holed up/boxed-in in my house for 3 straight months, that I wasn’t accustomed to being anywhere else.For several weeks until the Paxil started to work, every time I went grocery shopping or shopping for baby stuff, I’d feel incredibly overwhelmed, unable to think straight, shaky….I almost didn’t make it through the store….I felt disoriented and unsure of what I was doing and panicking from not being sure of what baby stuff I needed. I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight.
I wasn’t sure whether I was agoraphobic or claustrophobic. I just know that I felt like I was losing my mind.