After having a new baby, it may seem like all you hear is "Aren't you so happy?" or "This is the best time of your life. You'll miss it one day!" And that's why it can be so surprising and difficult and even shameful when what you really feel is sadness or anger or like you've made a huge mistake.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is quite common--it occurs in almost 15% of new births--and even though awareness of PPD is growing, it can still be a shock to find yourself depressed after having a new baby.
If you suspect you have PPD, the first thing you should do is contact your doctor, who can help come up with a treatment plan. But it can sometimes take time to get an appointment, and medications can take weeks to fully work. This article will offer some methods for managing your PPD in the meantime.
Manage intrusive thoughts
Intrusive thoughts are one of the hallmark symptoms of PPD. These are scary, unwanted thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. They may be thoughts or you may actually find yourself picturing certain things. You may imagine something happening to the baby, or you may even see yourself doing something to the baby.
First, do not beat yourself up over these thoughts. You are not a monster or a bad parent for having them. These thoughts are almost always rooted in a real fear or anxiety, and exploring that root will help you overcome such thoughts.
The next time you have an intrusive thought, try this method:
- Acknowledge that you are having an intrusive thought
- Determine what's behind the thought
- Thank yourself for the concern and assure yourself you've got it handled
- Try to move on. If you still can't stop thinking about the thought, try to distract yourself with something.
It can be very easy, and in fact even necessary, to put the baby's needs and wants over yours, but you must find a way to balance baby care with self-care. If you ignore your own physical and mental health, your PPD will only continue to worsen.
Sleep deprivation, in particular, will make PPD worse, so one of the most important things you can do to take care of yourself when dealing with PPD is ensuring you are getting sufficient sleep.
Babies are not known for their great sleep, especially in those early days. Try going to bed as soon as the baby does, even if it's 7 p.m. You won't be chained to an early bedtime for life, but it may be what you need for now.
If you're breastfeeding, consider pumping a bottle and having your partner take the first "shift" in the night so you can get a stretch of sleep before being up with the baby. If you're formula feeding, pick a chunk of time to be "off the clock" while your partner takes over.
Be sure also to eat regularly--don't skip meals. And try to bathe and put on clean clothes every single day. If all you do in a day is take care of the baby, take a shower, and eat all your meals, you've had a successful day.
Get out of the house
This can be a hard one when you are in the midst of depression, but getting out of the house can do wonders for your mood and outlook, if only to rid you of that cooped-up feeling. Run small errands, even if doing so seems scary at first (remember: you can always abandon your cart if you get too anxious).
Exercise has been proven to help with depression, and one easy way to get out of the house and get some exercise is to simply take the baby for a walk. Walks outside are excellent for calming fussy babies too, so this is often win-win.
If all you can manage at first is walking a few houses down the street, that's okay. Start small but make a commitment to getting out regularly.
Avoid the negative
When dealing with PPD, be very wary of consuming any dark or negative media. PPD makes you very susceptible to scary thoughts, and these can often be triggered by reading or watching something negative.
Now is not the time to seek out bad news, horror movies, sad stories, etc. Try to keep your media consumption light and positive, and ask the people in your life to avoid discussing anything dark or negative around you.
Reach for your comforts
Everyone has certain things they find comforting, and this doesn't just refer to comfort foods. If you have a favorite movie, book, or TV show, break it out. If you don't feel that you have time to read your favorite book, try finding it on audiobook. If you had a special hobby before having the baby, make time for it.
Surround yourself with the things (and people, of course) that you love and that make you happy, and be sure to treat yourself too. Do something small for yourself that makes you feel good.
Wrapping it up
Even though it may not feel like it now, your PPD can be treated and will eventually go away. Be sure to follow your doctor's treatment plan, and use the tips above to help on your journey to recovery. Remember that what your baby needs in the long-run is a happy, healthy parent.
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