Emotional fluctuations are a fact of life after birth, as new moms experience a range of emotion: Excitement, apprehension, exhaustion, annoyance, and sheer joy. Extreme lows are common, and are known as the “baby blues.”
For most women, those lows peter out by two weeks post-birth; but for others, they simply stay put, rather than lifting. Those feelings of depression may start to appear alongside stress, anxiety, and loneliness – all manifested in bouts of weeping, say, or mood swings. This is characteristic of postpartum depression, which affects an estimated 1 in 7 postpartum women.
Tending to your mental health is a good way to monitor for issues like postpartum depression. Here’s how you, and/or your support system, can do exactly that.
Things Moms Can Do to Support Their Mental Health Postpartum
As you take care of a new life, don’t forget yourself! Here are some great starting points to tackle postpartum mental health challenges in the bud:
- Get educated: Be educated before birth about what to look for in terms of postpartum mood disorders. Educate your partner/primary support systems as well.
- Get screened: Be routinely screened for postpartum mood disorders after giving birth. This is becoming more and more regulated, but insist on being screened if it's not happening. Ask what your score is if providers don't discuss it with you.
- Get social: Attend a new mom's group, even if you think you'll hate it.
- Get planning: Start 4th trimester planning early. Figure out who can help you -- and get specific. Who can watch the baby while you sleep or shop? Who can clean your home when you’re exhausted? Who can drop off food when your little one is too sick for you to step out?
- Get prepared: You may have not needed any help to run your household prior to the baby, but simple tasks like folding laundry can take extra time when caring for an infant. Asking for help can be difficult for us, it helps to have identified people at the ready before they are needed.
Things Families and Partners Can Do to Support A New Mom’s Mental Health
Partners and family can be a world of help for new moms when they know how! Support the new mom in your life by:
- Helping her set out postpartum plans, before birth
- Respecting her limits and boundaries
- Offering unobtrusive help, such as meal delivery gift cards, laundry service, a cleaning agency, or groceries delivered
- Offering to watch baby while mom runs errands, goes to an appointment, or tends to self care
- Getting educated on the signs and symptoms of postpartum mood disruption and know who to talk to if they notice these signs in their loved one
This last one is crucial, as it fosters the knowledge needed for open conversations with mom about these issues before they come up. This kind of active planning can alleviate a lot of stress.
It may help to ease expectations of new mothers
Many cultures have long had traditions where they sometimes shelter the mother, care for her for sometimes up to 40 days, while she rests, recuperates, and focuses on only feeding her infant. Many U.S. societies have gotten far from these rituals, and often have unrealistic expectations of women after giving birth – like sending them back to work after six weeks.
Help mom honor her own needs during this time, when often the focus is on the care of the infant.
Care for yourself in this period, too!
Partners should also be aware of their own needs during the postpartum period, as they are at risk for developing their own depression and anxiety.
Seeking therapy for perinatal mental health
Whether it’s you or your loved one who’s seeking a perinatal mental health provider, the one thing you want to look for is training. I cannot stress this enough!
Most therapists are generalists; they may see a variety of issues and see a lot of different kinds of clients. Postpartum specialists, on the other hand, can be found listed on Postpartum Support International (or PSI).
PSI has recently added a certification that qualified providers can apply for – it involves years of both clinical training, experiential work, and passing an exam. You can also look for a therapist that has been trained by The Postpartum Stress Center, or filter by postpartum therapists on Zencare.
If you are having difficulty finding someone well trained, another great place to ask is your OB-GYN or pediatrician. They often have a list of competent and much loved providers that they work with and refer to often. You also may need someone who fits your location needs and insurance needs.
In addition to being well trained in perinatal and postpartum mood issues, the other thing to look for is a good fit. By this, I mean you may need to meet with the provider and get a feel for their style of therapy and personality.
This is essential for therapy for be effective. Don't be scared to meet with a couple of different people in order to find the one you "click with.” The important thing to remember is that quality trained help is out there, and you can feel better.
Don't wait. As some of my past clients have said: “If you're wondering if this is postpartum mood issues, it's probably time to get help.”