Lots of us feel depressed when our babies are young. Maybe you’ve been there with your last baby, or maybe you know someone who struggled with postpartum depression. It’s easy to get scared about losing yourself, and feeling low when you bring your baby home. It can also be hard to believe – Having a baby is supposed to be the most fulfilling time, right? Or is it?
There are real challenges in parenting for each of us. Every parent has days where we feel overwhelmed. The tricky part is figuring out how to manage these days, and how to relate to ourselves and our loved ones when we’re struggling.
There is a way to navigate overwhelm, discouragement, hopelessness, and even despair without getting lost in the woods forever. Part of the key is finding gentle, supportive ways to relate to these feelings, which are a (temporary) reality of life – and parenthood in particular. The goal is not never to feel these tough feelings. Rather, the goal of life is to relate kindly to yourself and move through these feelings with greater ease.
Here are some gentle ways you can help prevent postpartum depression:
Get as much sleep as possible. Newborn parenting is nearly synonymous with sleep deprivation. As much as possible, find ways to sleep. Maybe your partner can cover baby care for a two hour stretch each night so you can get some uninterrupted sleep. Or, when your lactation consultant advises you are ready to introduce bottles, you might double (power) pump and then take a long nap while someone else gives the baby a bottle. Getting this kind of longer sleep stretch as much as possible can make a big difference in your energy, mood, and resiliency.
Head out into the sun for 30 minutes a day. Between the hours of 10am and 3pm, when the sun is at its peak, you’ll get a dose of Vitamin D that can help boost your mood by creating endorphins.
Understand there’s no “right way” to parent. Being attached to some “ideal” way of parenting or birthing is a one-way ticket to feeling disappointed at times. Parenting is a rocky road with unplanned detours we can’t predict or control. It’s okay to change course when you notice what you’re doing isn’t possible or isn’t working. There’s no “mama police” to judge you.
Parenting is a really hard job. It’s really not possible to do alone. Accept that it’s tough and bring in the physical and emotional support you need to help, especially in those early weeks. There’s no prize for self-sacrifice. In fact, self care and prioritizing what you need makes things better for your baby and all your relationships.
Surround yourself with support from people who listen without giving advice or judgement. Most times, you’ll be needing a listener who cares, rather than extra information. If you want extra information, that’s easy to come by. Good listening is much harder.
Set up the kind of help you’ll need. You’ll be holding your little bundle 24/7, so having a baby holder, changer, burper, and put-to-sleeper will become an amazing help. There won’t be time to keep the house clean and take care of yourself, so you’ll have to choose – at least in those early weeks. Bringing in help with housework, whether it’s family, friends, or hired help, makes a huge difference. Or, you can decide to leave the housework for another day – it will wait, and after all – you just had a baby.
Connect with community resources when you first start feeling blue or overwhelmed. There’s support out there, and if you’re not finding you have enough, it’s time to bring in more resources right away. It’s easy for feelings of hopelessness to build up steam and seem like all there is when you don’t get the support you need. When you feel this way every day for a while, it can start to seem like there’s no end in sight. Though that’s not true – postpartum depression ends – it’s harder to climb out when you’ve been down in that world for a while.
We we feel upset at ourselves, blue, numb or angry at others, chances are good there’s some expectation that wasn’t met. Remember, there’s no right way to parent. Many paths lead to raising resilient, wonderful children. Children are born for struggle and adaptive resilience. It’s okay not to be the perfect parent you imagined you wanted to be. Parenting is rough! You’re doing your best.
If you feel down, that’s okay. You’re still a good person and there’s nothing wrong about you. It’s normal to feel down. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Every parent does. Our goal is for you to get connected with a great listener when you’re down or at the end of your rope. Our aim is for you to feel really deeply cared for and heard, and to have more help taking care of yourself so that you can recharge. When you get connected quickly with a great, understanding listener who remembers you are good, capable and resilient, without assuming there’s something wrong with you, all manner of difficult feelings can be worked through relatively well and fully.
If you’re struggling to function, that’s a signal you need more resource right away. Don’t wait. Feeling overwhelmed or at the end of your rope, numb, angry or sad all the time, especially if it’s impacting your ability to function is your body and mind’s way to signal to you that you’re needing more support. Lots of resources are available, and some are there instantly:
24/7 Parent Support Hotline
Referrals and compassionate listening, anytime day or night
Postpartum Counseling and Crisis Support
(same day or next day home visit generally possible, based on availability)
Lindsay Germain, Counselor and Newborn Specialist