The new role of motherhood can be incredibly daunting, even for experienced mothers who may have coped the first time; a second or third birth could be the one that brings on the blues. Time after birth is fragile with all energy being spent on coping with the demands of a newborn, we are less aware of the amount of energy needed to physically heal the body. You feel like there is no energy left for your well-being. This period can bring on overwhelming feelings of anxiety, loneliness and post-natal depression.
The oestrogen levels that took nine months to build up (longer if you conceived by IVF) drop about 90% within hours of birth. That is a shocking depletion of hormones, no wonder you can get knocked sideways. There is no shame in post-natal depression; it is okay to feel blue after having a baby, it is not unusual and you are not alone. Many women suffer post-natal depression on varying levels, but there are ways you can help hurry PND along to get back to a happier place. It does pass and it will pass.
How you feel about how you look
You may be feeling down about your post-delivery shape. Time and patience is key, you can’t exercise before you have properly healed and your Doctor gives you the go ahead (usually between 4-6 weeks post-birth depending on delivery). Therefore instead of feeling embarrassed about the size of your ‘empty’ tummy and frustrated at why hasn’t it shrunk already, try to feel positive about your tummy. Help the healing by placing your hands across the skin over your lower middle and feel the warmth from your hands. Thank your tummy, love your tummy, it has after all stretched for nine months to protect your little miracle. A positive connection to your body can help you heal; where as frustration and negative thoughts are a ‘blocker’. This is where the psychological crosses over to the physical.
Negative thoughts towards baby
If you ever experience negative thoughts towards your baby and this is possible in some severe cases of depression, you must go and speak to your Doctor urgently. You may need medical intervention and a helping hand to balance dancing hormones and a booster for low serotonin levels. In addition to medication you may be referred to a professional counsellor. If this is the case do not leave your partner out. It is an important part of the recovery process that he understands what you are going through and how best to support you. Both points are not necessarily expressed clearly enough by the one going through it, so a professional can explain with more clarity and reassurance that you can get through this.
Depression during toddler years
It may be that you sailed through childbirth without experiencing PND, however if ‘toddlerdom’ has hit, there are a couple more pre-school years to get through, when you can still feel isolated. When you and the child are at home alone too much, it can feel worse. If you are feeling a little low, try to get into a routine of going out with your child, join a playgroup or mum’s group. Depression and loneliness can creep up on any of us, so it is good to make friends with women in the same stage of life, with similar aged children (and someone you meet will have comparable experiences). You may feel distanced from your old work colleagues, plus friends without children will not understand what you are going through. Don’t feel cut off from the outside world. Ask your health visitor or enquire at the local sports centre. There are groups and courses out there for mothers and babies, mothers and toddlers. Finding them is relatively easy.
A good healthy diet will contribute to lifting spirits significantly. Depression can set in due to a serotonin deficit A low level of serotonin is something you can help change through your eating habits. Therefore time for a ‘happy’ diet consisting of animal proteins (fish, poultry and meat), nuts and seeds (sesame, almonds, cashews, walnuts), dairy (eggs and yogurt), fruits (tomatoes, avocados, melon, grapefruit), and oils such as sunflower and evening primrose. Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, mushrooms) for more detailed food lists try looking at; www.Livestrong.com they have a list of foods that increase serotonin. Another useful site to refer to is; www.worldshealthiestfoods.com the title says it all.
Fortunately, Mother Nature is clever and serotonin boosting foods are healthy so the bonus of improving your nutrition whilst combatting PND, is that you will lose baby weight at the same time! In addition to actual food, discuss with your doctor if there are any supplements you should be taking. A blood test will indicate if you have an iron or other deficiency. The vitamin B family is highly important for you right now. Don’t stop taking the folic acid because you have had the baby, it was good for you too. Remind yourself which foods are high in Vitamin B. Brain food is absolutely vital to help you feel better. Nutritious foods all interlink, the lists cross over one another; examples of brain food are salmon (Omega-3), avocados and blueberries. Electrolytes are essential minerals in the blood (the most common known are sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium). Bananas are high in potassium so turn to a banana for a snack instead of a biscuit.
Eat earlier for better sleep
To dine earlier will help you sleep better. This gives your stomach more opportunity to finish digesting food and be ready for a quiet time. Eating too late is not inducive to a good night’s sleep. Nor is drinking caffeine or any stimulating sodas, because they are going to keep you awake. Avoid alcohol because it may fool you into feeling tired, but it disturbs healthy sleep patterns. The body does not rest effectively after consumption, the toxins and sugar levels will not lift PND. When you hit that pillow you need to give yourself the optimum chance for a quality sleep.
Establish a routine
Exhaustion from sleepless nights drags you down. To begin with, while trying to establish a routine (which will also help you feel better) try to sleep when the baby sleeps. It is too tempting to do the washing, tidy up, whilst fighting against the tiredness, give your self a break and close your eyes too. When the baby is awake, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising, but to go out and walk with the pram could be the best thing for you. Close the front door behind you and forget whatever domestic chaos you have just left. Tomorrow is another day so when you do feel stronger, those tasks will go back to being molehills, and not the mountains they seem today. Once energy is restored you’ll be whizzing round in 5 minutes to complete all tasks! Walking and getting fresh air is a good start to exercising after childbirth. If you live in the countryside or near the coast; stroll on a promenade by the sea, breathe in the fresh sea air, listen to the waves lapping, this can be calming (obviously not in a gale, I not trying to create a scene out of a Spielburg movie). For example, stop to look at nature, admire the beauty of a tree.
Yoga is more of a complete health regime rather than just exercise. It improves your state of mind and teaches you how to calm yourself. It does keep you fit and supple, which helps tone the body too. What is so fantastic about yoga is that it trains you how to breathe properly. Yoga breathing techniques all begin with basic breath awareness. Common breath is usually very shallow and only uses the top of the lungs, and we are all guilty of breathing this way! Use your diaphragm and make those lungs work. Here is something to try; lying on flat the floor with your knees bent up and your feet flat on the floor, a little less than shoulder-width apart. Let your back relax into the floor and place the palm of your hand on your lower stomach. Take some time to just breath as you normally would, feeling your breath through your abdomen. Notice how your breathing feels. Does it feel too fast paced? Uneven? Tense? Shallow? Start to slow your breath, breathing deeper and keeping each breath even. Take 5-10 of these focused breaths, thinking of nothing else except for listening to your own breathing and relaxing into the floor beneath you. If you find yourself feeling tense, anxious or scattered, take just a couple minutes to practice your breath. Now would be a good time to take up yoga. Some yoga classes come complete with créche. Get more oxygen to the brain through correct breathing. This stabilises one’s emotive state and assists in building clarity of mind. This will help you feel like you are more awake and more able to cope.
Carve out some time for yourself, get a friend, relative or partner to watch the baby while you have a nice long soak in the bath, with bubbles, in candlelight and just relax. Lavender relaxes you, rosemary clears the mind and rose is a warm and feminine scent. So choose a potion accordingly. Watch a funny movie, laughing aids circulation (and apparently other bodily functions including digestion too) and laughing cheers you up.
You may not enjoy socialising right now, but try not to be alone too much and take some of these positive steps. You will get there and you will feel better.
Watch out for your friends
If you notice that a friend is not as chirpy or enthusiastic about things as she was before having her baby, spend some extra time with her and listen; let her talk about her feelings without any judgement. You may not have experienced any form of depression, but telling her to ‘stay strong’ or ‘pull yourself together’ will actually make her feel worse. Depression can bring on feelings of inadequacy so comments like that do not help. Women experiencing this could withdraw from their surroundings and then feel more isolated. This is where good friends can be an enormous help, more so than partners. It is after all, the sisterhood that can chat away for England and take time together during the day. Be watchful over a friend if you feel she may be depressed. Mention your concerns to her partner who may not have noticed or just put it down to tiredness (men are not as intuitive as we are and sometimes need a nudge in the right direction). If you have been through PND think how you would have liked your friends to support you, so you can now be a good friend to one in need. PND is beatable.
Heather Porter is author of Body Back: The Mother’s Handbook to Medical, Physical and Emotional Well-being (Clementine Publishing 2012).
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