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October 24, 2016 | Family Medicine • Wellness Institute • Women and Children's Center
Pregnancy is an incredible process that produces life and can take a major toll on the mother’s body. The postpartum period begins as soon as you give birth and ends “when the mother’s body has nearly returned to its pre-pregnant state” and typically lasts six to eight weeks. During the postpartum period, you may be so overwhelmed by taking care of your newborn that you feel like you don’t have time to take care of yourself.
While your baby needs your time and attention in their first weeks of life, taking care of yourself is essential. Only by taking care of yourself can you be the best mother to your baby. Diane Sanford, PhD and Ann Dunnewold, PhD recommend carving out a few minutes each day for caring for yourself. They say that this will “not only help you be less easily frustrated, irritable, and self-critical, you may even protect yourself from postpartum depression.” Taking care of yourself and your emotional well being will allow you to have more to give to your child and other important people in your life.
There are many ways that you can help yourself recover from giving birth. While knowing which methods will be most effective is highly personal, experts regularly recommend similar practices for self care.
Making sure that you get enough sleep can make a huge difference in your quality of life. There is no one right way to plan your sleep, as it varies greatly from person to person. Some people live by the motto “you sleep when baby sleeps” which works well for those who are easily able to nap in the middle of the day. Other people simply go to bed early when their baby goes to sleep, waking up every few hours to feed. This works for those who can go to sleep early. If neither of these methods work for you, or if you still just can’t get enough sleep, you may need outside help. Dr. O’hara, author of Postpartum Depression: Causes and Consequences says, “you may need friends, family members, or hired help to pitch in so you can get the sleep you deserve.” While it doesn’t really matter how you plan your sleep, creating an intentional and realistic sleep plan can dramatically help your first few weeks with baby.
After having a child, many women feel badly. Talking openly with someone you trust about these feelings can help you work through them. While expressing your negative feelings is important, it is also important to focus on positive feelings. Look for the ways that you are feeling well and pay attention to and talk about those emotions too. This will help you maintain a positive outlook and make peace with all of your feelings.
Leaving your house once a day can have a very positive impact on your mental health. This can be as simple as going for a short walk with your baby or walking around a mall with other mothers, depending on your situation. This also offers your baby the opportunity to see the outside world, absorb vitamin D and begin social development. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can plan time out of the house with another adult while someone you trust can watch your child.
While you don’t need to look like a beauty pageant queen or get back into working out immediately, taking time every day on your appearance can help your mental state. Taking a shower, quickly getting ready and putting on something other than what you slept in can have a positive impact on your mental health. Studies show that new moms who spend at least 15 minutes every other day relaxing cope with the stress of motherhood better than those who do not. Diane Sanford, Ph.D., recommends deep breathing, meditation and soaking in a bath as positive ways for recent mothers to relax. Dr. Sanford says that “telling women to take it easy seems to relieve their guilt perhaps because they see it as an assignment instead of an indulgence.”
One of the most common problems women run into in the first few weeks after childbirth is ‘the baby blues’. While baby blues are not an illness, up to 80% of women experience some or all of the symptoms. Common side effects of the baby blues include:
Many women feel embarrassed that they are feeling the baby blues, despite the fact that it is fairly common. While the exact cause of the baby blues has not been proven, many experts think that it is related to the “hormone changes that occur during pregnancy and again after a baby is born” which may “produce chemical changes in the brain that result in depression.”
Having a new baby brings many changes and disrupts the routine that you and your family have been living. This adjustment, along with the concern to be a good mom, are likely contributing factors.
Baby blues usually disappear about 14 days after birth. If you are still feeling badly after this point it is likely that you are experiencing a more serious condition, postpartum depression.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in eight women will experience postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is similar in many ways to the baby blues, but includes more intense feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and irritability and the symptoms are much longer, lasting up to a year.
The CDC lists the following as common symptoms of postpartum depression on their website:
Postpartum depression can have a negative impact on your ability to care for your baby and complete even simple daily tasks. Seeking medical attention as soon as you think you may have postpartum depression can help you manage your symptoms, feel more normal and enjoy your time with baby much faster.
What kind of treatment your doctor prescribes will vary largely depending on how intense your depression is. In general, however, the treatment for postpartum depression is much the same as normal depression. The two main treatments your doctor may prescribe are psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs.
Psychotherapy: Talking about your feelings and concerns with a professional mental health provider can be incredibly helpful for less extreme cases of postpartum depression. Therapy can help you find tools which can help you “cope with your feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals and respond to situations in a positive way.” In many cases it is helpful to bring your partner or other family members so that they can better understand what you are feeling and how to best support you.
Antidepressants: because postpartum depression is similar to other forms of depression, antidepressants are very effective. If you are breastfeeding, you will need to talk to your doctor as any medication you take will be part of your breast milk. Despite this, there are some medications that have little to no risk of side effects for your baby.
With help, most cases of postpartum depression are solved within six months. Remembering that postpartum depression is treatable, temporary and not your fault can help you maintain perspective as you seek help.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.