What’s a Girl to Do About Postpartum Depression?
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Well, for some.
80% of new moms experience the baby blues, and 10% end up suffering from major postpartum depression (and I reckon that number is higher but a lot of women just don’t talk about it). This is a painful experience to go through, and every new mom’s challenges are different.
When I was pregnant I looked at my situation and was very worried I would suffer from postpartum depression after the baby was born. I had experienced some depression in my life but I also had a family history of depression. I was worried that the hormonal shift and the changes after giving birth would set me over the edge and I wouldn’t be able to connect with my baby like I should. Sometimes these fears were a little over the top but for the most part I believed they were warranted. So what did I do? I educated myself.
If you are worried about getting postpartum depression these are the most important things that you can be doing for yourself now and after your baby comes.
1. Reach Out and Ask for Help
Usually, this is last on the list but I’m going to put it down first because I think it’s that important. If you are experiencing any signs of depression then please talk to someone, and keep talking. If you know that you have postpartum depression, or you think you do, then you should talk to your doctor. Even during your pregnancy if you experience any “signs” or even worries you should talk to your doctor about it.
Don’t be worried that your baby will get taken away from you, it is UNTREATED postpartum depression that becomes a problem and a risk for both you and your children.
You need to take care of yourself, and by taking care of yourself you are able to take care of your little ones as well. There is no shame in admitting you have depression and don’t deny it to yourself because you want to escape it. The longer you ignore it the bigger of a problem it can be. So if you are pregnant now then you should start a conversation with your doctor about your concerns, and you should also familiarize yourself with the signs of postpartum depression so you can recognize them later on if you start to experience it.
As a missionary, I have the chance to experience other cultures. In the Sotho culture here in South Africa (as well as in other African cultures) it is quite normal for the mother’s own mother, or mother in law or other older female relative to come and help with the baby for the first little while. I think this really helps women emotionally to get through the challenging first weeks so they are not overwhelmed. They have a support system and we could all use that whether its someone with us 24/7 to help get things done, or a medical professional when things get too serious.
2. Communicate with Your Partner
It is extremely important that your husband understands postpartum depression as well. I cannot overemphasize this. If you aren’t married, then whoever it is closest to you and the baby. I am saying this because I have seen way too many women suffer postpartum depression with husbands who think it’s just “feelings,” and that “feelings come and go.” I believe that God built men and women differently and men do experience emotions differently so it can be hard for them sometimes to understand and relate to what women are feeling. Unfortunately, too many men dismiss women’s feelings, which leave women very alone. It can help a lot if your husband understands from a medical standpoint what postpartum depression is. You can have your doctor or midwife talk to you both about it during an appointment, or find something for him to read, but anyway I find it helps for a woman to have someone beside them who understands what is going on. In today’s society it is too common for depression, and mental health issues in general, to be ignored. Not only do you want your partner to understand what postpartum depression is, you also need to be able to freely talk to him about it. For me, I think this was the #1 thing that kept me stable in those first few months. Sometimes things would just pile up on me (or so I felt) and I could tell I was really on the edge and I could tell my husband that I basically needed a mental health break and he would take over pretty much all the responsibilities so I could take care of myself. He understood what I was going through because I was never ashamed to tell him and we communicated often. Not everyone is going to have this kind of support though and I have an entire post dedicated to this kind of situation.
3. Know How to Relax
You need to be able to relax. Having a new baby can be stressful and it helps to have a moment to unwind, even if it is short. This might be hard if you have other children and your husband has a tight work schedule but it is very important. We were very busy even with our first born but sometimes I would go soak in the bath for a while and then my husband would bring the baby to me to bath her. You need to take some time every day to yourself, maybe when the baby goes down for a nap take some time to pray to God, r have a hot cup of tea, or anything that you know will relax you. If you are constantly stressed and busy you need a chance to take a break.
4. Start Journaling
Journaling is amazing, and I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but for me it works wonders. Journaling is a way for me to process my emotions and actually see how I feel. Sometimes I can feel a certain way for so long and not really understand it until I start writing about it. I used to journal in a notebook but after my baby was born that was becoming impossible so I have switched over to a great journal app called 7 Days, which saves my writings and I can even export it to a PDF if I ever want a copy so I liked that about it. Journaling is also a nice way to pray sometimes too because you can talk to God in writing. You can start doing this while you are pregnant and it’s nice to look back on. The more you process your feelings the more self-aware you will become, which is very important.
5. Take care of your health!
This one seems obvious but not always for a new mom. I had a friend go to the hospital shortly after giving birth because she wasn’t eating enough (and she was very sick her whole pregnancy). It’s not that she was trying to lose weight or anything, she was just so focused on the baby that she forgot to eat! I couldn’t believe it…until I had my own baby. So ladies, please eat and eat healthy. Choose foods that you know are easy to prepare, healthy and that you like. I ate a lot of eggs after my baby was born because they were quick and easy and when my husband was home he would make them for me. If you’re breast feeding it’s really important for you to be eating enough. Also, make sure you are drinking enough water – most people are actually dehydrated and it can change your life to start drinking enough water. When I was pregnant I drank so much water and it really changed how I felt on a daily basis. If you don’t like drinking water I would say just keep trying because eventually you just get used to it and start to actually notice how thirsty you are. Also in terms of taking care of yourself, try to get some light exercise after the baby has been born such as taking a walk together. The fresh air and the blood flowing will do you good. It’s also refreshing not to stay cooped up inside your house all day.
6. Trust God
Trusting God is something we should be doing all the time but it’s very important during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. Postpartum depression often strikes women who had traumatic births, and traumatic births come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Some people have crazy things happen during their birth and don’t suffer postpartum depression (I have a friend who gave birth alone with no one in the room to help her!) while others have a much less traumatic experience but for them it was very traumatic. We can’t really compare stories of trauma one to another because when it’s our own babies we are talking about it’s scary no matter what the risk is, whether it’s minor or major. Going into birth you need to be ready to trust God with the unpredictable and scary situations.
Don’t be traumatized but be trusting.
When my baby was born she did not cry, in fact she wasn’t even moving and she looked dead. They had to rush her to the NICU to suck out some mucous I guess, and it was all very scary. One minute I was giving that last push and the next my husband and I were completely alone in the delivery room. We immediately started to pray and we soon heard our baby’s cry coming from the room next door (we were right beside the NICU room at the birth center). It was a really scary situation looking at it but we weren’t scared. We knew that God had our baby in His hands. I know other people have much more serious situations, and with those require more faith, but we need to go into it knowing that everything is in God’s hands. Believe in Him and trust Him.
James 1:6 ESV says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
We must have faith if we are going to ask God to do something. If you have already given birth, if you are already suffering from postpartum depression, you still need to trust God. Trust Him with the entire situation and continue to seek help in other areas. Trust God to help you find the right doctor and the right medication if you need it. Trust God, and wait on Him.
So those are my tips
To avoid postpartum depression, or at least to handle it. I don’t think it’s completely avoidable, even if we do all the “right” things. Sometimes it will be inevitable so do not feel bad or ashamed if you are depressed, just know there are so many people out there going through the same thing, you are not alone.
If you are suffering from the baby blues or postpartum depression though, just remember to do what you can to take care of yourself. Sometimes as moms we think our needs come last, so we don’t think of doing some of these self-care things but they’re extremely important because we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. So don’t ever feel like you’re a bad mom if you need someone to come over and watch the baby while you take a nap or a relaxing bath. Don’t ever feel like you’re a bad mom if you need pills, because in fact it makes you a good mom because it means you want your baby to have a happy, healthy mom. God will be with you every step of the way, stay close to Him and pursue healing. Be the strong woman I know that you are.
The Moving Mama
Lizzy Mash is an experienced early childhood educator now living in Africa as a missionary working with children and families.
She teaches Christian moms how to take a more respectful and Christ-like approach to motherhood by using Gentle Parenting strategies.
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