There are many things that you can try to improve your well-being following a diagnosis of postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression affects around 1 in 7 women. It can have an adverse effect on the well-being of both the mother and child, yet 1 in 5 women keep quiet about their symptoms and therefore remain untreated.
Unlike the baby blues, postpartum depression rarely disappears on its own. The condition can occur days or even months following the birth of your child and last for many weeks or months without treatment.
If you are thinking about harming either yourself or your baby, put your baby down in their crib immediately and call a family member, friend, or one of the following helplines: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433); 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); or 1-800-PPD-MOMS (1-800-773-6667).
Postpartum depression is a treatable psychological disorder. It can be managed effectively, and you will feel better. But first and foremost, it is important to reach out to your healthcare provider and ask for help.
Do not struggle with postnatal depression alone. It is not your fault that you are depressed, and being depressed does not make you a bad parent.
Here are Medical News Today's steps to cope with postnatal depression, to be used together with guidance and advice from your doctor.
1. Build a secure bond with your baby
Emotional bonding is the secure attachment that forms between parents and children. Successful bonding allows the child to feel safe enough to develop fully, and having this bond will affect the way in which they communicate and form relationships throughout their life.
Baby massage is one way that you can help to secure the bond between you and your baby.
A secure bond forms when you tune in and respond to your child's needs or emotional cues, such as picking them up, soothing them, and reassuring them when they cry. Being that dependable source of comfort allows your child to learn how to manage their own feelings and behaviors, which, in turn, helps to strengthen their cognitive development.
Postpartum depression can have a significant impact on early bonding, making it difficult get through each day and hindering your ability to look after both your baby and yourself.
One study of 14,000 children in the United States found that 40 percent of the children lacked strong emotional bonds with their parents. This lack of strong parental attachment made the children more likely to experience behavioral and educational problems.
Some parents feel an instant rush of love the moment they set eyes on their baby, while for others, it takes time. If you have not yet bonded with your baby, do not feel anxious or guilty. Sometimes, it can take weeks — or even months — to feel an attachment, but it should come with time.
Learning to bond with your baby benefits both you and your child. Close contact with your infant releases oxytocin, the "love" or "cuddle hormone." An increase in oxytocin makes you feel happier, more caring, and sensitive to the feelings of others, and it enables you to recognize nonverbal cues from your baby more readily.
Here are some ways that you can strengthen the bond with your baby.
Regardless of whether you breast-feed or formula feed your baby, try doing so while their bare skin is against your own. If the room is cool, wrap a blanket around your baby's back to keep them warm. You can also cradle your baby skin-to-skin.
Skin-to-skin contact relaxes both you and your baby, as well as enhances the bond between you. Additional benefits of skin-to-skin contact include prolonged periods of sleep and alertness, less cold stress, improved weight gain, better brain development, decreased crying, and an earlier discharge from the hospital.
Touch is an important part of your child's development and helps to support the bonding process. Baby massage has been shown to decrease the severity of symptoms in mothers with postpartum depression.
Learn how to properly massage your baby by signing up for a class, finding information or videos online, or reading a book.
Your baby will likely lose their reflex smile and give you their first real one between 6 and 12 weeks of age. Research has found that when a mother sees her baby smiling, areas of her brain that are associated with reward light up.
The areas that are stimulated relate to the neurotransmitter dopamine and are the same areas that are activated in individuals with drug addiction. Essentially, seeing your baby smile is similar to a "natural high."
Hold your baby approximately 8–12 inches from your face — so that they can see you properly — give them a wide smile, and offer them a warm "hello" in a happy tone to coax a smile.
Regardless of the tempo, key, and whether you are the best or worst singer in the world, singing to your baby has many benefits. Engaging with your child through song is just as effective as reading them a book or playing with toys in keeping their attention, and it is more effective than listening to recorded music.
Singing to your baby not only provides them with the sensory stimulation that they need to focus their attention but also provides a distraction for you from the negative thoughts associated with depression, while simultaneously empowering you as a parent.
2. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to relieve or prevent postpartum depression. Simple lifestyle choices — some of which are listed below — can improve your health and mood and help you to feel more like yourself again.
Try to get as much sleep or rest as you can while your baby is sleeping.
Eat omega-3. Consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish such as herring and salmon, during pregnancy may lower the risk of postpartum depression. It may also be a potential alternative treatment for postpartum depression.
Nap. "Sleep when the baby sleeps" is a phrase often used by those giving new parents advice — advice that parents usually roll their eyes at. After all, getting any form of sleep while looking after a newborn is a tricky task.
Women living with postpartum depression often take longer to fall asleep and sleep for less time than those without the condition. Moreover, the lower the quality of their sleep, the more severe their depression often is.
If you have family or friends who can look after your baby while you take a nap, be sure to enlist their help.
Get out in the sunshine. Exposure to sunlight and fresh air will significantly improve your mood. Even if your hair is a mess or your baby has spit up on your favorite pair of yoga pants, take the stroller for a spin and aim to get outside for at least for at least 10–15 minutes each day.
Pamper yourself. Take some time out from your mom duties and take small steps to indulge yourself. Catch up on your favorite show, take a bubble bath, or perhaps light some soothing scented candles.
3. Slowly reintroduce exercise
Studies have demonstrated that physical activity might help to combat postpartum depression. Exercising during the postpartum period is an efficient way to achieve better psychological well-being as well as ease the symptoms of postpartum depression.
Take a walk with your baby in a stroller for 20 minutes per day to relieve some of your symptoms of depression.
You can begin gentle exercise just a few days after birth if you have had a healthy pregnancy and uncomplicated vaginal delivery. If you have had complications or a cesarean delivery, ask your doctor for advice on when you can begin exercise.
Walking is a good starting point, with the added bonus of being able to push your stroller at the same time. Aim to be active for around 20–30 minutes per day. Even exercising for 10 minutes can benefit your body.
Your local fitness club may run classes that interest you, such as dance, Spinning, Pilates, or yoga. Specific postpartum classes are sometimes available at gyms, and there are also classes to which you can bring your baby.
If going to a gym is not something that interests you, then there are several fitness DVDs and online fitness programs that you can do from the comfort and privacy of your home.
4. Build a support network
Humans are social creatures and crave interaction with others. Having positive social interactions and emotional support may be a protective factor in helping to reduce stress and deal with life's difficulties.
Seek other moms with children of the same age as yours through groups, classes, or apps to share your common experiences.
New mothers can sometimes feel lonely and overwhelmed by their new role. Research has shown that loneliness leads to painful feelings of isolation, becoming disconnected from others, and feeling as though you do not belong.
Receiving social and emotional support from others can enable you to better cope with problems on your own, by boosting your self-esteem and sense of independence.
You do not require an extensive network of close friends and family to benefit from social and emotional support. Some people benefit from having mutual trust and friendship among just a few people, such as neighbors, co-workers, or other parents that you have met through parenting groups or mommy and me classes.
If you struggle to connect, try not to give up; forging new connections and friendships is possible. Seek other women who are facing a similar transition into motherhood. It can be reassuring to hear that others share the same feelings, worries, and insecurities.
Try out baby and toddler classes, join your local mom Facebook group, or download the apps Peanut or Mush to connect with other parents nearby. Your pediatrician can also recommend available resources in your neighborhood.
5. Try psychotherapy and medication
If you have tried self-help, made lifestyle changes, and sought support but have experienced no improvement, your doctor may suggest that you try medication, psychotherapy, or both.
- Psychotherapy, also called mental health counseling or talk therapy, can help you to discuss your concerns and feelings, set goals that are manageable, and learn to respond to situations positively.
- Antidepressants may be recommended if your depression is severe or when other treatments have not improved your symptoms. Your doctor will take that into account if you are breast-feeding when prescribing your medication.
Research may be able to explain why a particular antidepressant is effective in treating postpartum depression. Researchers found that Citalopram — from a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and sold under the brand name Celexa — may restore connections between cells in the regions of the brain that are adversely affected by stress during pregnancy.
Other research indicates that if you are unable to cope with going to face-to-face talking therapy sessions, then Internet-based cognitive behavior therapy could significantly improve your symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Remember: experiencing postpartum is nobody's fault. It is a medical condition that requires treatment.
Postpartum depression can make the already stressful period immediately following childbirth even more difficult. The sooner you can get help with managing your depression, the sooner you can begin to enjoy your baby and motherhood.