Pregnancy and birth are two of the most amazing experiences in a woman's life. The power of our bodies to create, grow and deliver a beautiful little life is mind boggling. And, our bodies serve up a rather dizzying cocktail of natural hormones to create and sustain that tiny person growing inside us. While on the one hand, those hormones prepare us for birth by pushing us into a nesting frenzy and giving us that mama bear protectiveness after birth, they can also leave us reeling with the rapidity with which our emotions can swing from one extreme to another.
Since those hormone start ramping up from the start of pregnancy to at least the first few months after delivery (and longer if one breastfeeds), it's often hard to tell where the hormones end and where mom begins. Looking back at my two post-birth experiences, I remember times (when I thought I was acting completely rational) I would now categorize as, well, crazy-style! Then there were days when I knew I wasn't feeling right, like the time I visited my OB's office after my first baby, and began sobbing hysterically when realized I didn't have my insurance card and the office staff was rude to me. Seriously. Loud, hiccuping sobs. So embarrassing and so normal!
Now that I'm two and a half years past my most recent delivery, I can clearly see that while my emotions were probably a lot higher due to the death of my parents around the time I was delivering, I still definitely suffered from PPD each time. I contribute it to PPD partly because with each delivery, I felt a distinct change in my emotional and physical health around the two year mark. Thankfully, the first time, despite my having hysterics in public, my OB encouraged me that as long as I didn't feel I was a danger to myself or my baby, I didn't need antidepressants. As a mama who really does believe in avoiding pharmaceuticals as much as possible because of potential dangerous side affects, I'm truly grateful to her for her wise help.
So, what should you do if you're suffering from PPD? Here are some of the things I have done with success.
1. Get a little Vit D daily - as in Real Sunshine.
My dad always said that if you're feeling blue, open the blinds and let the light in. I think you should not only let the light into your house but go out for 15 minutes and let it shine on your bare skin. The brilliance of the light truly will illuminate your whole spirit. It remindes me of a verse I memorized from the Bible as a kid, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The light of the sun is a powerful healer. Let in the light so it can blast the darkness away.
2. Get exercise daily.
You're up at crazy hours with a new baby anyway, right? Stumble out of bed and walk up and down your block. Seriously. You don't have to run a marathon. You just had a baby for goodness sake. Take it ssssssslllllllllllllllllloooooooooooowwwwwww. And leave the baby with your partner. You need a break.
3. Take a shower. Every.single.day.
If you haven't had a baby, you may be saying, "Duh, Mons. Obviously."
Have I got news for you, newbie. Just wait till it's your turn. Hahaha!! It's not that easy to shower when you have a 2 1/2 year old running around wreaking havoc while your newborn screams because you've put her down for the 45 seconds it takes you to pee. A full two minute shower with a screaming baby seems interminable and not relaxing. At. All.
But - Mama - do it anyway. Strap your precious munchkin into the bouncy seat, set it next to the shower and steel your heart against the cries while you lather yourself up and let that hot (or cold) water run over you for two whole minutes. Trust me. You'll feel like a new woman and your baby will thank you.
3. Connect with other adults besides your partner.
This is so much harder than it seems! There are no end to the reasons not to get out. First of all, gathering the gear to get two small children out of the house, not to mention ensuring they both have clean diapers, is a nearly overwhelming task. I learned to pack my diaper bag the night before and try to have my bottles filled (nope, breastfeeding did not go well for me!). Hot carseats, nap schedules and other stuff get in the way. But, keep trying! Find places to talk with adults whether it's a La Leche League meeting, mother's playdate group on meetup.com, church, the library or the check out at the grocery store. You need adult interaction and your partner needs a break - no matter how amazing they are.
4. Sleep every chance you get!
Every more experienced mom I knew said to me, "Sleep when your baby sleeps." And, just as many times I probably ignored that advice because I thought I was different. My house needed to be perfect. Boy was I tired! The second time I had a baby, I listened. Now I'm saying it to you. Just go to sleep. Trust me, the laundry will still need to be folded when you wake up - for the next 18 years. So, just relax, get some rest and everything will seem better in the morning.
5. Eat nourishing food and drink lots of water.
Look ladies, right after you have a baby is not the time to start a crazy weight loss plan. Relax and recover. Eat food that will give you strength - lots of great veggies, healthy proteins, whole grains, fruit and some dairy. You'll feel more nourished and up to the task.
6. Listen to music and dance like a crazy, crazy person.
This is actually advice from my first OB, Nichelle Whitehead M.D. Such great counsel. Be silly. Listen to something that reminds you of who you were before you became, "Mama" all day long. Jazz, Rock, Top 40, whatever. Dance around with your hands in the air and laugh at the sight you probably make.
7. Speaking of laughing, try it.
Find something that makes you laugh every day. Watch a funny show, read the comic strip, surf Youtube.com. There is something out there that will lift your spirits. Make it your daily assignment.
8. Visit a respected herbalist or acupuncturist for help. A good herbalist will be able to suggest herbs safe for nursing mothers. And, acupuncturists specialize in putting bodies and emotions back in balance. I find acupuncture so relaxing, I usually fall asleep during my treatments. Aaaaahhhh....
However, if you are depressed after having a baby, don't hide it. Talk to someone who loves you about what you're going through. Don't wait till you feel you're a danger to yourself or your baby. If you are, get help right away. Call your OB. Call your mom or your partner. Do not be embarrassed! Hormones and lack of sleep can affect our minds in surprising and profound ways.
Whatever your post partum experience, taking good care of yourself after having a baby is essential to your overall health as a mom, a partner and whole woman. Take care of yourself so you can take better care of your family!