Getting Beyond Postpartum Blues
Every mother is warned about the baby blues that come following the birth of a baby, but very little is said about what can be done to prepare for it. Most veteran mothers warn about how awful the mood swings will be, how much they cried after giving birth, and how overwhelmed they felt.
These things are all true and the warning does serve a purpose to the new mother. Once warned, instead of panicking and wondering what is wrong with her when the blues hit, the new mom can know that it is completely normal and even expected. However, a new mom needs more than just a warning. More helpful would be to have an older mother help the new mother come up with a baby blues plan. Then, when the new mother is low on sleep and so emotional she can hardly think straight, she has a plan in writing that she can follow to keep herself on track until she begins to feel like herself again.
Topping the list of this baby blues plan will be the age-old saying, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” For some women this will be an easy task to accomplish. They are able to recognize that they have come from the grueling task of giving birth and now are experiencing very little sleep, and are able to take frequent naps with no guilt.
For other women however, sleeping when the baby sleeps leaves them feeling as frustrated as lack of sleep makes them feel. These are the women that need to keep a clean house at all costs, do laundry every day, and regularly make and serve meals. To sleep when baby sleeps means some of these things don’t get done, and that can result in feelings of total frustration and even inadequacy.
These particular women need to add to their plan a statement that they will have to read several times a day. This statement may say something like, “It’s ok to let things go right now. It’s only for a season,” or, “Let go of perfectionism. Focus on the baby.”
Before the baby comes is the time to mentally prepare yourself to not be miss on-top-of-everything-at-all-times and accept that life will be drastically different for a while with the new baby. It isn’t necessarily a bad change, and it’s not even a permanent change. It’s simply a change for a certain period of time. The laundry won’t always pile up and your husband won’t always live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Life will get back to normal. But until then, let yourself relax.
Even if a new mom doesn’t sleep when the baby sleeps, she needs to consciously make an effort to take things slowly in those first four to six weeks postpartum. To not do so is to keep the body from fully healing from the birth process.
I personally had postpartum bleeding for three month,s and my doula finally told me that it was because I wasn’t letting my body rest and recuperate. She also went on to warn me that the further out I pushed the healing, the longer it would take to fully recover. She stated firmly, and from her own personal experience with her first baby, that it would take up to an entire year to feel like myself again if I didn’t stop and let the healing fully take place. Her advice was to slow down for a month or two, rather than be forced into having to be on an indefinite rest because my body wasn’t allowed to rest and fully heal.
During this six to eight weeks of postpartum rest, plan to do enjoyable activities. Dealing with sad feelings is much easier if you are doing things that you enjoy doing. During your times of rest, plan on watching favorite movies, reading a good book, chatting with a close friend, or even doing crafts or art, if that is what you like to do.
As simple as it sounds, showering every day can do a lot in combating postpartum blues. This can be difficult with a newborn, but it is possible. If necessary, put your baby in a bouncy seat in the bathroom while you shower. There is no self-esteem and mood booster like being clean and refreshed.
You can even brighten your mood further by doing your hair and putting on some makeup. The mentality may be, “Why bother?” but ultimately, you’ll feel prettier if your hair and makeup are done. When you feel prettier, your mood will invariably feel better. If the pregnancy body was hard to handle, the post-pregnancy body can be even more frustrating to deal with. Taking care of yourself physically until the baby weight comes off can help with the emotions that come accompany this.
Even though you are resting and sleeping, it is also helpful to attempt to have some sort of schedule to your day. This is not a strict schedule by any means, but is enough of a schedule to help keep things from becoming chaotic. Chaos results in out of control feelings, which results in more depression.
A simple schedule might mean eating regularly and when your body prompts you that you need to eat, going to bed at a decent hour every night instead of watching TV, and incorporating a daily walk into your life. It can also include a daily time of reading to your baby and giving him or her a bath at a regular time (this also helps the baby get on a schedule of sorts as well). Maybe the regular routine can include a daily phone call to someone close, like your mom.
As simple as you make it, some sort of daily routine will help keep the out of control feelings at bay.
Don’t do the new mom thing in isolation. I cannot stress this enough! If the hospital where you gave birth has a Nurse Direct line for new parents, use it. Many hospitals have added those services specifically for all the questions a new mom may have, as well as vital emotional support. If you used a doula or a midwife, call them several times in the first weeks and share your thoughts and feelings. I am not, by nature, a person who shares emotions, but I found that talking to my doula during some of my saddest postpartum moments was invaluable to me.
Let your husband know what you are experiencing, too. This will be helpful for him instead of him just coming home to a wife that seems to snap at him and shut him out. Tell him you feel unattractive or out of control or horribly sad. He would rather you communicate what you are thinking and feeling than have to guess at what is going on.
While communicating what you are thinking and feeling, also communicate what you need from him. Husbands want to be a part of the parenting process, but many times they just aren’t sure how to accomplish that. If you need your husband to hold the baby while you take a shower, tell him. If you need him to change a diaper, let him know. If you need him to help with laundry or dishes, verbalize this to him. He’ll appreciate not having to play twenty questions or guessing games and you’ll feel relieved when he steps in and alleviates some of the burden.
If you need to, put the baby down and let him or her cry for a few minutes. Even if you are practicing a parenting style that does not encourage crying it out, you may have to do this occasionally anyways. Lack of undisturbed sleep and raging hormones coupled with a non-stop crying baby can become an overwhelming situation, and even the most loving mother may get the urge to shake her baby. If you reach that point, then you need a break! Put the baby in the crib, go call someone, and then, when you are calmer, go back and get the baby.
Do a gentle active activity every day. This does not mean an intense work out, nor does it mean pushing yourself to get back in shape as soon as possible. It does mean trying to take a walk or doing gentle stretching on a daily basis.
Exercise, even a mild form of it, can release chemicals in the brain that aid in combating depression. Don’t make this activity something you should do, but instead something you do to treat yourself, knowing it will help you feel better mentally and emotionally.
Eat healthy. Avoid sugar and caffeine overload in the months following giving birth. The highs from those substances will be wonderful while they last, but once they wear off the plummet in mood can be severe.
Help keep your body stable by eating foods that are healthy, such as fruits and vegetables, complex grains and proteins.
Let yourself cry, even if it seems to be for no apparent reason. You are a new mom, your hormones are all over the place, you have a baby that needs you for everything, and you’re low on sleep. That is more than enough reason to be weepy.
Lastly, if you find yourself slipping further and further into depression, call your Doctor and let him know. There is no shame in this. Oftentimes, medication, even short term, can help get chemicals readjusted in your body so that you can find your old self again.
Having a baby is the most exhilarating and most exhausting thing there is. It is the most joyous occasion followed by some of the saddest days of your life. Know that the highs and lows, ups and down are normal and prepare for them. This time will pass, and until it does, you can work with it, not have it conquer you.