Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful new baby! You spent months, if not years, preparing for this little bundle of joy, picking out nursery colors, researching pregnancy symptoms and remedies to relieve that icky morning sickness, and learning all about the changes your body goes through during those crucial and exciting 40 weeks. Now that your newborn is here, let me ask you a question: How did you prepare for healing postpartum?
Many women give birth expecting to feel instant joy and fulfillment, however are left confused and disappointed when these feelings do not appear the moment that baby makes its way into your world. If this sounds like you, well then you are not alone. Most new mothers experience the baby blues a few days after giving birth through about the second week postpartum, however 15 to 20% of women experience symptoms of anxiety and depression that reach beyond this baby blues period. In reality, symptoms of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders can surface through a year after giving birth. What most new mothers may not know is that postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are treatable and, in some cases, perhaps preventable. Knowing that you do not have to live like this is an important first step in the healing process. Let’s talk about what your plan should look like.
The first part of your postpartum self-care regimen should include educational information regarding these disorders and the related symptoms. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders often include feelings of sadness or depression, irritability, anger, difficulty bonding with your new child, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, feeling anxious or panicked, feeling like you are “losing it” or are “out of control,” feeling like you should not have had a baby, or that you may hurt yourself or others. A smaller number of women may experience auditory or visual hallucinations in addition to these symptoms. Knowing yourself is key here and keeping track of how you are feeling on a weekly, daily, hourly basis can help you notice symptoms early on and seek treatment before these feelings worsen. If any of these symptoms sound a bit familiar you may be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. As frightening as this may feel to you, know that you are not alone and many other women are going through, or have gone through, a situation much like yours.
The next step in helping to treat these disorders is to contact your doctor, therapist, OB/Gynecologist, or your child’s pediatrician in order to receive help from a trained professional. When you are making an appointment to see your doctor, make sure that you schedule with the one you are most comfortable with and the one you think you can trust the most. You will want to make sure that when you are talking with this provider you are honest about how bad you feel and do not try to downplay your symptoms for fear of judgment. After all, your doctor is here to help you and in order for them to do so they need to have a clear understanding of how you are really doing. Don’t let anyone brush you off or minimize your feelings. Individuals who specialize in postpartum/perinatal mood and anxiety disorders will be especially familiar with what you are going through and are better equipped to tailor an evidence-based treatment plan to your individual needs. If you are not sure where to go there are a number of reputable organizations on the internet that can help guide your search. A few trusted organizations are Postpartum Support International (PSI) and The Postpartum Stress Center.
While you are waiting for this appointment day to arrive there are some things you can be doing to help yourself feel better. Let’s start off with knowing that whatever you are doing is good enough and striving for perfection is not realistic. Turn off the TV programs and unfollow the social media folks who are portraying themselves as the “perfect mother.” Pressuring yourself to live up to these high expectations is exhausting and impossible. You should be proud of simply taking care of your little one and yourself during this healing time. Anything more is a bonus and can always wait until tomorrow.
You should also know that it is okay to rest when the baby rests and let others know what they can do to help you during this period of time. Talk with your partner and let them know how you are feeling. Call your mother, your aunt, your best friend, or anyone you know who has time to sit and listen to you on the phone. Make a list of close friends and family members that you can call and keep it close by. Don’t expect too much from yourself right now and allow yourself some time to relax and laugh. Don’t be afraid to set limits and boundaries with guests and trust your instincts. Get out of the house and take a walk, go for a drive, stretch a little bit and get yourself moving around periodically throughout the day. Consider joining a mommy and baby group for some social interaction. You would be surprised at how healing these groups can be. Don’t blame yourself for how bad you are feeling, these symptoms often show up unannounced and outstay their welcome. Remember that the feelings you are experiencing do not define you as a person or you as a mother.
Now that you have this information, what will you do with it? I would recommend keeping a journal close by throughout the day to jot down your thoughts and feelings. You can also keep a log of eating and sleeping habits, which can help you determine if these are a new normal for you or if there is something else going on. Let’s be honest, you’re eating and sleeping patterns are going to be a little mixed up after having that baby but they should become more consistent as the weeks pass by. Once you have been keeping a log for a few days or even a week or so go back through it and review what you have written down. If anything seems concerning to you or if your gut is telling you that something is off, now would be a good time to contact the pediatrician or doctor that you are comfortable talking to about these symptoms.
There are many women who will, have, or are experiencing the same things you are going through. You are not alone. The best thing you can do right now is learn how to take care of yourself after the birth of your child and focus on healing. The better you care for yourself during this time of healing, the better you will be able to bond with and care for your newborn baby. I urge you to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and to put this postpartum care regimen into place before your beautiful baby makes their way into this world. Let’s take the stress out of the postpartum healing and let the mother and baby bonding begin.