The path for many into postpartum depression is gradual, so much so, that it can be difficult to tell that the water is hot because it warmed up so slowly. For others, a more abrupt change is seen, particularly with loss (a death, a divorce) or a perceived loss. Nearly every mother I've spoken to has felt at some time what we term Baby Blues, simply by the nature of what we've been through.
The physical and emotional stress of childbirth.
Elevated hormones that mimic our stress response.
Foods that stress our bodies ability to maintain homeostasis.
Lack of restorative sleep and time to care for ourselves.
All of these things push us toward or past our threshold to maintain homeostasis, to cope, and we begin to decompensate. For some women tiredness, forgetfulness or irritability overtake them, but we continue to manage day to day. Some mothers may feel completely overwhelmed. Sometimes we may need help just recognizing that we are experiencing postpartum depression.
Take our Baby Blues Quiz (Postpartum Depression screening tool) to see if you have symptoms.
There are underlying themes I have heard as I've listened to mother's stories, as well as what I experienced myself. Recognizing these feelings early on, you can make better decisions on how to address them. Ignoring these changes, withdrawing from help, blaming yourself or others only keeps you from feeling well again. Here are my 5 best tips for catching your baby blues.
1. Talk with your medical provider - and keep talking. So often I hear women say that their doctor wanted to put them on medications that they didn't want, and the conversation ends there. A medication is not going to correct the underlying problem with any of these symptoms. "Depression is not a Prozac deficiency," says Dr. Patrick Hanaway, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. Your doctor should be looking at your lab tests, for anemia, hypothyroidism, nutritional deficiencies, and helping you set goals to improve those things you have control over like the next four tips on this list.
2. Move your body - if you felt like I did at the end of my pregnancy, I was dying for some intensity. Whether we are pregnant or recovering postpartum more movement, stretching, walking, and getting outside into nature is therapeutic to our body and soul. Moving our bodies more whether it is 15 min every morning with Mommy Ready or resuming our workout routine, reduces stress and boosts our mood through the release of endorphins our feel good hormones.
3. Eat well - nutritional deficiencies are at the top of my list postpartum, simply by the design of pregnancy and the american diet. All of those resources your body used to create another human may have left your reserves drastically low. Without the right indgredients our bodies can't break down hormones, toxins and other chemicals correctly. Hormone weight gain (around your middle) is one way a body stores what it can't break down effectively without the right nutrients. For other women these stored hormones end up crossing the blood brain barrier and causing anything from mood changes to psychosis to dementia. As well as I felt I was eating as my children were young, I found I was still unable to replace certain nutrients, identified through genetic testing, that I was slow at metabolizing. So temporarily, I needed supplements to replace B vitamins, and magnesium to add to what I could obtain from colorful veggies and proteins. (I wanted to add pooping-well here too - to feel well you have to poop well, boosting insoluble fiber from lots of veggies and 3L of water/day to keep your stools bulky and soft, you should be pooping-well daily.)
4. Sleep is essential to rejuvenate and restore - what about when we're waking every two hours with a newborn. I didn't say 8-10 hours straight, though that's the goal. Sleep training by 3 months you can attain that. During the early months I used the advice my mother gave me,"Nap when your baby naps." As new mother's we may have unfounded expectations that we have to bounce back after delivery into our busy life. A wise midwife told me that the women who recover best are those that rest most in the first 2 weeks. She had seen time and time again that women who allowed other's to help care for them initially felt significantly better by 4-6 weeks. Reach out to family and friends to be available if you've had a busy night to watch an older child or hold a baby, while you catch up on a couple zzz's.
5. Managing stress before it manages you - When you feel the early symptoms of baby blues coming on, instead of telling yourself, "it's not that bad." Let the way you're feeling clue you in, that you are not coping well - and you can do something about it. Look at your diet, your movement, your sleep, your relationships. Is there something you can adjust in any of those areas that can reduce your physical and emotional stress? Do you need spiritual support? While working on small daily goals to improve these things, there are other things you can do to directly improve your ability to restore your ability to cope - and it doesn't have to take much time. For example, in the first lessons at Mommy Ready we teach belly breathing. As you breathe in - your belly rises, as you breathe out - your belly draws in. Sitting or lying quietly for just 10 breaths can switch your body from Stress ON to Stress Off. And the more you do this, the better response you will get.
Our message from Mommy Ready to all mothers this month is: if you are feeling blue, reach out for help. Baby blues is a way that your body is expressing a need. Listen to your body and your feelings. Recognize what you CAN do. Seek help from your doctor or your family and friends. Look at the small changes you can make to improve your nutrition, increase your movement, get better sleep, and manage stress better. The things you do each day have the most impact on how you feel, and how you mother.
Join me February 22 at 7pm (PST) live on Mommy Ready Facebook page, to discuss your questions about postpartum depression or the baby blues. Send me your questions below.