Dealing with depression

Throughout pregnancy, you eagerly anticipated your bundle of joy, imagining days spent picnicking at the park and visiting with friends during playdates. Now that baby is here, however, you can barely drag yourself out of bed, let alone muster up the motivation to pack the diaper bag and leave the house. While it’s completely normal for new mamas to experience yo-yoing emotions in the days immediately after delivery, it is cause for concern when the baby blues linger beyond the first couple weeks.

Defining postpartum depression
If you’re struggling with day-to-day tasks in the weeks and months following baby’s arrival, you could be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). PPD affects approximately 1 in 5 moms nationwide and is characterized by symptoms that are similar to those of the baby blues, only more intense and longer lasting. PPD is a serious complication of pregnancy and should be treated as such. Acknowledging your feelings and seeking professional care is critical to your health as well as your baby’s. After all, if you’re not at your best, you can’t give baby your best.

Recognizing risk factors
Physical, emotional and lifestyle-related factors can all contribute to the onset of PPD, and a mom-to-be who is particularly susceptible should talk to her doctor and prepare a support system accordingly. Being aware of and proactive about potential struggles may prevent or minimize the effects of PPD or, at the very least, help soften the blow when it strikes. The following circumstances can help determine if you’re at risk:

  • Personal or family history of depression (postpartum or otherwise)
  • Personal or family history of thyroid problems
  • Recent experience of a stressful event (i.e., job loss, death of a family member or medical complications)
  • Financial or marital difficulties
  • Unplanned or unwanted pregnancy

It’s important to remember that the presence of any of these factors does not in itself mean you’re destined to suffer. In fact, a mother with a history of thyroid problems who is coping with job loss and marital difficulties may come home from the hospital perfectly happy to have her new baby in tow. And a mom who doesn’t exhibit any indicators that she’d be prone to depression could battle PPD for months. There’s no way to know which moms will experience PPD, but those who do need proper treatment.

Seeking professional care
Your healthcare provider can diagnose your condition and determine the best plan of action in combating it. She may recommend counseling, hormone therapy, an anti-depressant or a combination of these things. Although extensive studies on the effects of antidepressants on breastfed babies have not been completed, many medical professionals believe the benefits of nursing—and of having a caretaker with a good bill of health—far outweigh possible side effects baby may experience from the medication.

Taking care of you
In addition to the help your medical professional provides, rely on family and friends for relief. Clue them in to how you’re feeling and allow them to support you as you traverse the road to recovery. Don’t hesitate to accept a friend’s offer to watch your baby while you take a shower or make a trip to the mall. There is no pride to be taken in refusing help, and it’s essential to realize that going it alone is next to impossible. See to it that you’re getting enough sleep, and make it a priority to eat well and partake in regular low-impact exercise. Although changing out of your pajamas may seem like a major undertaking some days, getting dressed, putting on makeup, and leaving the house (even if it’s just to run to the post office) can be the first steps in finding your way out of the darkness and into the light.

Renouncing the guilt
It’s critical that a mom not interpret her struggle with depression as a shortcoming. The simple truth is that PPD is never the mother’s fault and, with adequate treatment, is only temporary. Rather than viewing your condition as a sign of ineptitude, focus on your response to the issue as a symbol of your strength. Admitting your feelings and obtaining support reflect positively on your dedication to being the best mother you can be.

Note: If you’re ever afraid you might hurt yourself or your baby, put your baby down in a safe place and call for help immediately.

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By Lauren Brockman

Image: iStock.com