The baby is home. Everyone seems healthy and there were no serious complications. Your friends and family are glad to see your beautiful baby. At the same time, you struggle with getting things done at home. Maybe you have anxiety about caring for your new baby. Perhaps there are feelings of emptiness now that your world has drastically changed. Postpartum depression is very real and can be difficult for mothers.
I had the honor of interviewing a very special woman for this post – my wife. After the birth of my oldest daughter, she experienced some postpartum emotional problems. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental and Emotional Disorders, Fifth Edition estimates that 3 – 6% of mothers experience postpartum depression. It is worth noting that studies are variable in regard to prevalence with some research indicating rates of 13 – 19%.
So, are there things mothers can do to decrease the severity or length of postpartum depression? I believe there are. Here are some tips from my lovely wife.
When I asked about staying home all the time, Stacy indicated this was a bad idea. She said part of the problem is the unwillingness to do things outside of the home. She admitted sometimes this was because she did not feel up to it physically. She also said the worries she had about exposing our new baby to the outside world prompted her to stay home more. Stacy related this unfortunately isolated her from others, making her sadness and worry more intense.
Now, my wife encourages new mothers to get out even when it seems like the most difficult thing to do. She said, “Going back to work was hard because of the worry about whether Aubrey was going to be ok. At the same time, it was really helpful for me because I was always around people.”
Recognize that “Different” and “Bad” Aren’t the Same
The postpartum world is different. That might be the understatement of the century. Stacy informed me that isolation (see above) sometimes gave her the impression that others did not want to see her or be around for very long. She sometimes felt that her new baby made people want to stay away.
Fortunately, she recognized that her feelings about others had more to do with her lack of socializing than anything else. We had great friends. They were still great friends when we had a new baby. In fact, they were all dying to see her! Stacy discovered that her belief that her friendships changed were just wrong. She isolated herself, leading her to believe her friends were no longer interested.
The difference is you have a new baby in the mix. Conversations might have to be paused to change diapers, get a bottle, or clean up baby vomit (I know, “spit up” is cuter but it’s still vomit!). You may not be able to stay out as late as you did pre-baby. These differences aren’t “bad” things. They’re different things.
Ask for Help
In our conversation about postpartum depression, Stacy told me being willing to ask others for help was important. In our present world, we tend to have more distance between us than we did even 30 years ago. Family members do not live next door and our closest friends may be across town. They are not popping in when they get home from work to check on us. Everyone is a little farther apart and we’re all too busy.
There are a lot of people who care about you and really want to help. They love the idea of helping care for your new baby. Unfortunately, they are not mind readers. They need to know what you need. Never be afraid to ask someone to give you a break or to come over and help out for a while. Not only will they be glad to, it will give you some much needed socialization.
The last thing Stacy wanted me to tell you is to relax. The things you worry about happening to your child, you, or your family are not likely to come to pass. My wife attributes her lack of depression and anxiety with our second daughter to having a lot less worry. She said, “Aubrey was fine so it was easy to assume Madelyn would be as well.” Aubrey is our 3 year-old and Madelyn will be 2 soon. Incidentally, we also have my 15 year-old at home and have another son on the way…
You have what it takes to make good decisions on behalf of your child. You know how to care for your baby. Yes, the postpartum world is different, but it is most likely going to be fine. Focus your attention on your baby instead of constructing worst-case-scenarios in your mind. This will help you deal with and shorten your stay in postpartum depression.
What tips do you have for new mothers for dealing with postpartum depression and related problems?