Each year in the US, around 1 million new moms face postpartum blues. Perinatal depression and anxiety are real. It’s one of the last standing stigmas. As a new mom, it’s expected you have already fallen in love with your baby before they arrive and are excited about your future as a parent. Behind these cultural expectations is a painful existence for many moms. In this article, I discuss the signs of after-baby blues and give some tips to help you out in those first few important weeks and months after birth.
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There’s one thing that’s more important than anything else that protects you as you enter motherhood. It’s called EXPECTATIONS.
The first clue we have about how expectations can get us into trouble starts with pregnancy and childbirth. Some of us do a great deal of research and prep. Despite our preparedness, pregnancy and childbirth often turn out to be a far cry from what we had imagined. Sometimes things go wrong. What’s even more cruel about this reality check is that others off-handed comments seem to point the blame for pregnancy or childbirth problems right at us – the mother – the very person who has nurtured and prepared for the event.
Then there’s the time after the baby is born.
It’s normal to have romantic notions of floating around your home breezily in a white tulle skirt, breasts full of wholesome milk, while your chubby, rosy, baby coos waiting for the next feed. I know for sure this was the image in my mind while I was pregnant with my first child, some 26 years ago. My first pregnancy did a lot to realign my notions about control because I was gripped with nausea and vertigo from day 12 until the middle of my second trimester. At this point I was so damn hungry from throwing up, I devoured everything in sight and my weight sky-rocketed to nearly 200 lbs, putting me and the baby at risk because of gestational diabetes. My romantic notions began to crumble during the pregnancy, but any further ideas of love and light were smashed when, after a 26-hour labor and birth, my gorgeous little baby boy developed colic and screamed pretty much incessantly almost all of his waking hours. I’ll spare you the details of several failed attempts to breastfeed. All I will say about that is I felt like my nipples had been put through my Ninja blender and contrary to every book I read, they never ‘toughened up’. The diagnosis of an inadequate nipple for breastfeeding didn’t do much for my feminine bad-ass power all those years ago.
So, once again, there’s one thing that’s more important than anything else that protects you as you enter motherhood. It’s called EXPECTATIONS.
Moms tell me they don’t always feel the swell of love they thought they would with a baby. This is different from mom to mom and from child to child. Some of it depends on how smoothly the birth goes. Here is another topic around which to have reasonable expectations. The birthing process is difficult. Don’t set yourself up with absolutes such as “I’m never having pain relief”. It’s best to keep an open mind and see how it goes. Don’t think birth or motherhood is something you can do perfectly. Focus on surviving, coping and doing the best you can. If something doesn’t work for you, stop doing it and drop the expectations. I vividly remember periods of indescribable love for my first baby. I also remember periods of feeling numb, of feeling nothing but exhaustion and confusion. There was also a fair amount of self-loathing for not pushing him out fast enough, not having bigger nipples, not being able to soothe him when he cried. I remember all of this was against the backdrop of a major perineal tear/sutures which felt like a lightning strike every time I moved.
It’s good to keep in mind some truths: *Babies survive if they are fed and cuddled. *All new moms feel inadequate. *All new moms have a meltdown. *You know everything you need to know. Pay attention to the wisdom within.
Don’t believe anything you see on social media with first-time moms appearing confident, peaceful and already back in their pre-pregnancy jeans. This is the exception, not the rule.
If this IS you as a first-time mom, kudos! For the rest of us – it’s gonna be a shit show. Methods you want to apply to parenting may or may not work. If, for instance, you have always dreamed of breastfeeding – give it a whirl and try it out. If it doesn’t work, no worries. If you have been told not to sleep with your baby but they are only calm when sleeping on your chest – do this for a while in your chair or any damn place you can. Don’t feel like you have to obey a set of rules that don’t work for you. It will just make you frustrated. Every baby is different.
Your baby will grow and flourish as long as they are fed/cuddled. Be as flexible as possible.
10 Signs of Postpartum Depression
- Anxiety about meeting the needs of your baby. The anxiety paralyzes you.
- Irritability and anger outbursts.
- Lack of appetite, or overeating.
- Inability to do normal daily activities such as showering or brushing teeth.
- Isolating self.
- Crying more than usual.
- Feeling frozen when trying to make simple decisions like what to wear, what to eat, etc.
- Feeling a lack of connection with your baby and/or feeling resentful that the baby is taking up your time and energy.
- Feeling full of regret that you had a baby.
- Morbid thoughts of death or being hurt, and other associated images such as dropping your baby or hurting him/her.
*Note: The hormone changes associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation, as well as lack of sleep, mean almost all of the items on the list will happen. They become abnormal or concerning when they dominate your days rather than being fleeting experiences.
*Untreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can last into the early childhood years.
If you are concerned after reading this list reach out to your physician, GP, Ob-Gyn or mental health professional.
Moving forward you can build your ‘new mom’ kit from the following suggestions.
New mom toolkit: 10 Essentials
- Prep ahead with food big time. You won’t be going to the store for a while. Buy lots of freezer safe containers and start prepping meals now. Right before the baby comes, stock up on whole wheat crackers, cubed cheese, cut fruit/veggies and healthful grab-and-go foods.
- Get a wardrobe ready with comfy clothes. Sweat pants, button-down shirts if nursing, a clean nursing bra for each day and TONS of white spit up towels. Spit up towels will be your friend for the first year no matter what. They have many uses. Have a big stash of comfy but close fitting underwear for bleeding. Don’t feel bad if you have to throw it away.
- Put together a pain relief kit: rice bags or compresses that can be frozen or warmed in the microwave, peppermint oil or natural pain relief salve. Buy rich, non-toxic skin ointments to soothe sore spots. (Check out what you buy on the “Think Dirty” app). Nipple relief and breast pain relief is a must.
- Buy some yogurt tubes and pop them in the freezer. You can slip them in your underwear as they cool the perineum area nicely.
- Prepare your sleeping space. You will be spending a lot of time in bed as you heal and recover. Do it on clean sheets and a nice blanket or throw. Get some spares ready so you can switch them out. There’s gonna be a lot of body fluid floating around for a while.
- Don’t expect to have any time for doing the dishes or housework. Let this go for a while until you get your mojo back. If you can afford it, schedule a cleaner for the first few weeks. If you feel up to visitors, let them load the dishwasher for you and vacuum. If you can’t stand the thought of people in your home just let it be. Your job is to rest and attend to the near constant demands of baby. Ask for help with what you need. When you don’t want to be disturbed turn your phone off and hang a “Do Not Disturb – Baby Sleeping” sign on your door. People will get the hint.
- Cry when you need to and do it often. You are not going to hurt your baby if you cry.
- Get a wash-and-wear haircut. You won’t have time for curling your hair.
- Buy the movie “Baby Mozart”. It’s freakin’ genius and you don’t have to feel guilty about putting your baby in front of a TV or screen. It’s art.
- Know tomorrow is another day. If you bombed it today, you get to try again tomorrow. Use mindfulness to be aware of and move through the moment. This too shall pass.
If you feel depressed, you’re not alone in this. There are close to one million other moms that are struggling through this, too! Make sure your besties are on speed dial. You are going to need them.
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Traci Baxendale Ball, LMSW, CAADC is the founder of Vibrant Health Company LLC
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