Avoiding Postpartum Depression

by Kiren Rasul

In the emotional life of a new mother, life ‘before baby’ and ‘after baby’ can be worlds apart. This can contribute to a woman not feeling like herself—because she is, in fact, no longer the same. The changes are physical and mental as well as emotional, and although new moms have different experiences and react uniquely, they all suffer from exhaustion, a contributing factor to the ‘baby blues,’ or worse—full-blown postpartum depression, which can be dangerous to mother and child. But there are some things you can do to ease the common problems of transitioning into motherhood.

Expecting too much from yourself too soon.
So you’re not fitting into your favorite pre-pregnancy jeans. So you have dark circles under your eyes and stretch marks on your belly! Hey, having a baby is a life-changing experience, and no matter how difficult it may be, try enjoying it. As far as work is concerned, many women feel guilty delegating. They feel inadequate in some way if they ask a friend to watch their baby for a while or if someone cooks them a meal or two.

Don’t be so self-critical.
Be as realistic as possible. Most women wear their maternity clothes for several weeks after delivering their baby. Don’t push yourself to expect anything different. Most moms are discharged from the hospital in less than two days and before you know it, they are back to tackling dirty dishes and piled up laundry! But it is perfectly alright not being able to do everything yourself. It’s fine to allow friends and family to run errands for you or keep an eye on the baby for a while.

Expecting too much from everyone around you.
So your husband doesn’t take turns changing the baby at night or your mother-in-law, who lives a block away, doesn’t drop off home cooked meals. Hello? Did you really expect they would?

Communicate your wishes to your loved ones.
Many a time, your loved ones do not even know what would make you happy. So tell them that an afternoon nap is something you’re longing for as you’ve been up all night, and they’ll baby-sit your little one for a few hours. However, if it’s not such smooth sailing, keep your expectations low, so that even if someone does something small for you, it’s a pleasant surprise. If your husband is not very helpful around the house in the first place, don’t expect him to transform overnight.

Wanting the perfect baby, perfect home and perfect life.
Pregnant moms are swamped with baby magazines and books. They see picture-perfect children with picture-perfect moms in picture-perfect surroundings. That sets unrealistically high standards. New moms want the same with their baby and do not realize that the children on magazine covers have their hair styled by professionals, air-brushed by photographers, sit under the best lighting on magnificent designer sets. In real family portraits expect to have a cranky baby with spit up on her new clothes, some gunk stuck to her hair and socks that don’t match.

Don’t try to be a perfectionist.
Some things are best learned the hard way! My favorite refrigerator magnet says ‘Dull women have immaculate houses.’ I couldn’t agree more. If someone was coming to see the baby, I wanted to have a sparkling clean home, something home-made to serve them and a neat and clean baby to show off. Even if I sometimes managed to pull all this off, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t enjoy the company I was having. People are coming to meet you, not to see if your microwave is clean from the inside or if you have swept stuff under the rug! Relax; they’ll understand and if they don’t, it wasn’t worth making the effort for them in the first place.

Receiving conflicting advice—and a lot of it too!
If there’s one thing everyone loves giving in abundance, its advice. It’s free and you’re getting it whether you like it or not. Whether it’s advice on how to burp your baby, what to feed him, when to bathe him or even what to name him, you’ll get opinions from every direction, and quite often they’ll be poles apart. Your mother says lay your baby on his stomach and he’ll sleep longer. Your doctor insists that sleeping on his back is the safest way, whereas your sister-in-law says that only on his side will a baby be comfortable! Such conflicting advice can be very stressful, especially for first time mothers.

Listen to everyone, but do what you feel is right.
Go with your gut feeling, even if you are not a pro. You’ll do just fine. After all it’s your baby and he will be spending the most amount of time with you—so do what suits you.

Not enough ‘Me’ time.
One of the main reasons women go into postpartum depression is because they miss their old selves. They become so entangled in the web of sleep deprivation and fatigue that they lose themselves in their new baby. Even though all the books recommend ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ few moms actually do so!

Don’t neglect yourself.
We deserve some time for ourselves, even if it’s as trivial as gong to the bathroom in peace! So, chalk out some ‘me’ time and do something you enjoy and haven’t had the time to do so lately. Go for a walk, soak in a tub, read a magazine or go have lunch with a friend.

Disconnecting with your spouse.
You’re not the only one whose life has life has taken a dramatic turn. Your husband is also going through a lot of changes. Even though most men don’t express their emotions as easily as we do, they need some attention too.

Rekindle your relationship—with and without the baby.
Take out time to do stuff you used to before the baby. Go to your favorite restaurant or to watch a movie. Also, spend time bonding with the baby together as a family. That can be one of the most rewarding and therapeutic activities of your entire day.

However, if despite all these preventive solutions, you still find yourself or a loved one crying inconsolably for long periods of time for several weeks after the baby’s birth, seek medical attention. Or worse still, if you, or someone you know, has ever contemplated hurting themselves or their baby, don’t waste a moment to speak to your doctor. Postpartum depression is a treatable condition. Seeking help is the most difficult step. For the most part, a little TLC will help fade away your ‘baby blues’ and you’ll begin to cherish every moment of motherhood! •

from the September-October 2005 issue

You deserve some time
for yourself, even if its
as trivial as going to
the bathroom in peace!