Do you have the baby blues?
It is thought that up to 80 per cent of new mothers’ worldwide experience the baby blues. However, there’s a difference between the very common baby blues and postpartum depression.
While 80 per cent of new mothers will experience sadness, tearfulness, insomnia and irritability in the days after labour, only somewhere between 10-15% of women in the Western world go on to develop postpartum depression (US Centre for Disease Control 2011). According to research by the mental health organisation Sane, this figure is thought to be slightly higher in Australia; around 15-20 per cent of mothers.
So how do you tell the difference between the baby blues and the more troubling condition that is postpartum depression?
Well, the baby blues should only last for a couple of weeks at most, so if you find the blues aren’t lifting, or seem to be worsening, you may be suffering from the symptoms of postnatal depression. While the baby blues cause women to feel sad, tired, irritable and anxious, postpartum depression can result in more serious feelings of despair and helplessness. Many women who experience postnatal depression report feeling uninterested in their baby, while many others report being afraid that they will neglect or otherwise harm their new family member.
All of these feelings can be extremely disturbing and upsetting, but it’s important to remember that they are common.
Postpartum depression is a clinical condition, but it has nothing to do with your abilities as a mother or your relationship with your child. It is also a condition that can be improved. Below are seven strategies for beating those baby blues that just won’t shift.
Strategies for Dealing with Postnatal Depression
1. Manage your expectations
Perhaps one of the greatest curses on the modern women is her desire to have superhuman abilities to cope with everything life throws her way, and without a hair falling out of place. Many new mums place unrealistic expectations on themselves for what is humanly possible. Pre-baby superwomen have a reasonable amount of control over meeting their own expectations—they can spend hours exercising to stay fit, work back late to climb the corporate ladder and keep their house spotless if they so desire. But when little one comes along, the ability to control one’s life dramatically declines; you can’t make a baby sleep, stop it crying or press the off switch to fit in with your routine. Suddenly the world feels out of your control. So it is crucial to let go of the expectations that things will be a certain way (e.g. “I must have a perfect house”). Allow yourself a period of time to be present with the process and respond to what is required rather than have expectations about the mother you should be.
2. Let go of any shameAlmost all new mothers initially feel overwhelmed by the sudden changes brought on by a new baby. Not only is there the change in identity that comes with being a new mother (especially if for the first time), but there are also sleepless nights and an endless supply of
dirty nappies to deal with, inexplicable crying fits and irregular feeding times. The whole experience can be unbearably stressful, and it’s important to remember that you aren’t supposed to be able to take it in your stride. Do not feel ashamed if you are unhappy! Everyone finds this time difficult, and the only way to deal with it is by knowing your limitations and getting help. Only do as much as you can manage, and don’t be afraid to ask other people for help—especially in the first few weeks.
3. Avoid major life changes
A new baby brings enough stress and change of routine all on its own, do not burden yourself with any other major changes at this time. Forget moving house, starting a new job or taking on a new study program for the first few months after the birth. Allow this to be a special time of bonding with your baby and adjusting to a new way of life.
4. Look after yourself
Part of the reason it’s so important to ask other family members and friends for help is because it’s crucial to find time for you. Just because your baby seems to think you’re available 24/7 doesn’t mean that you should naturally be able to do this. You need time out to unwind and mentally regroup. Whether this means taking half an hour to watch your favourite sitcom, or just lying for a blissful hour in the bath, make sure to take “me-time” every day.
5. Get dressed and get out
Yes you’re a mum now, but you’re still a beautiful woman. Being pressed for time you may not feel the importance of putting on your favourite skirt or taking care with your hair, but over time neglecting how you look will impact how you feel about yourself. Get out from under your sweater every day, and get out of the house. The effort to do so will pay rewards in the long-time by stronger self-esteem. Keep your social life healthy, and stay active; these are two ingredients for fending off depression at any stage of life.
6. Join a group
Many new mothers, especially single parents, can come to feel isolated when looking after a new baby. It can be difficult to get out of the house, and if your friends don’t have children too it can sometimes be difficult for them to relate to you. Joining a new mother’s group is a great way to make new friends and share the wonders as well as the miseries of being a new parent. Sometimes just being understood can make the world of difference to how you feel. You can bet that there will be several other women there who know exactly how you feel.
7. Get professional help if you need it
Postpartum depression is a clinical condition, and you may well need the help of a psychologist or to take antidepressants to counter it. Most doctors agree that because the chances of antidepressants being passed on to your baby in your breast milk are so small, it’s better that a mother with postpartum depression take them rather than suffer in silence. Remember that your relationship with your baby can suffer if you are feeling seriously depressed, so don’t be afraid to consider this as an option if you need it.
Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. For other free lifestyle resources visit www.activ8change.com.au