Many women experience postpartum depression, but simple self-care acts can help. Read on to learn our five postpartum depression self-care tips.
By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
Your body goes through a lot of physical changes throughout pregnancy and childbirth, but mental health is often left out of the conversation. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders affect one in seven women and can range from mild to severe. Let’s talk a little more about postpartum depression and how you can best support your mind and body after giving birth.
What does postpartum even mean?
Postpartum or the postpartum period refers to the time after birth, and any issues, symptoms, or conditions occurring post birth. This is sometimes used interchangeably with the postnatal period. You might see postnatal mostly referring to anything concerning the baby, whereas postpartum often refers to issues concerning the birth giver. Regardless, the prefix “post” is indicating the status of something or someone after birth.
What is PMAD?
PMAD is an acronym for Perinatal or Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder. This refers to a number of feelings and disorders that may be experienced during pregnancy or after birth. PMAD affects one in seven women and should be taken seriously, as untreated disorders can worsen and/or be distressing for the family, partner, and newborn. Treatment is an option for those experiencing PMAD, and there are many resources available for support. Some examples of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders include postpartum depression, postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis, and more.
What are the “baby blues?”
The “baby blues” describe a period of adjustment after having a baby in which feelings of sadness, moodswings, or feeling overwhelmed are extremely common. It’s important to note that the baby blues are felt by about 50 to 80% of those that recently gave birth and are different from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Common symptoms of the baby blues include crying, trouble eating or sleeping, anxiety or doubt about caring for the baby, etc. and may come and go for a few days or weeks after giving birth. You should talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns or distressing emotions you may be going through, even if you suspect you’re experiencing the baby blues.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is a type of postpartum mood disorder that is characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, or anxiety that can get in the way of carrying out daily tasks. Postpartum depression will often begin a few weeks after birth, but may occur up to a year after giving birth.
There are a few factors that may cause or put someone at a higher risk for postpartum depression, such as:
Hormones: Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding all bring about different levels of hormones that increase and decrease dramatically. These changes in hormone levels could have an impact on depression, similarly to mood swings or extreme emotions around menstrual periods.
History of mood disorders: Family and personal history of depression or other mood disorders puts women at a higher risk of developing PMAD, including postpartum depression.
Emotional factors: Change can be a huge trigger for depression and anxiety, and going through pregnancy and birth is no different. Regardless of if a pregnancy is planned or not, adjusting to caring for a newborn and seeing physical changes in a postpartum body can bring about a lot of emotions. This is especially true if there were added stressors during pregnancy or childbirth.
Lifestyle factors: Outside of caring for a newborn, many other lifestyle factors can cause stress, sadness, or anxiety, and increase the risk of postpartum depression. Examples include a recent death of a loved one, illness, employment changes, lack of support, and so on.
Giving birth comes with a lot of changes to your body, such as postpartum hair loss, changing vitamin and mineral levels, constipation, and more. Check out the Natalist blog for more information and tips on navigating the prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal world.
Self-care tips to manage postpartum depression
Forgive yourself: No one is a perfect parent! Depression is a medical condition, not a sign of weakness. Forgive yourself for not doing things perfectly all the time and for taking the time to treat your condition on top of being a mother.
Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask for support so you can run an errand on your own, have someone to vent to, or even have the afternoon to yourself. Your loved ones are there to support you and help you when you need it.
Prioritize you-time: There seems to be a never ending list of things to do when you have a baby to take care of. Make sure you prioritize time for yourself as well; whether it’s five minutes to light a candle and journal or 30 minutes to take a bath, you deserve some you-time.
Find someone that can relate: It’s difficult feeling like you’re battling depression all alone. It may be helpful to find an outlet or circle of people that can relate. Join a support group, listen to a podcast, or find an online space where you can talk to others outside of your family and be open to express what you’re feeling.
Find a treatment that works for you: Self-care is great, but depression is a serious condition that you need to talk to your doctor about. Whether it’s talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both, finding a treatment you can stick to and that works for you is the most important step in managing postpartum depression.
Supplements to support mood
While the best treatment for postpartum depression is likely an antidepressant and/or talk therapy, there is some evidence that some dietary supplements may help boost mood and aid in reducing depressive symptoms.
A systematic review researched the effects of nutrients for depression and found interesting results. Evidence supports the use of methylfolate, omega-3, vitamin D, and S-adenosylmethionine combined with antidepressants to reduce depressive symptoms. A different single-blind clinical trial of 81 women found evidence that vitamin B6 may have a positive effect on reducing postpartum depression scores in high risk pregnant women.
While many studies show promising results, a Cochrane review concluded that there isn’t enough current evidence to recommend any dietary supplements for prevention of postnatal depression.
While these studies may seem conflicting, we know for a fact that taking some dietary supplements such as a prenatal vitamin can help support your health in many other ways. More research needs to be done before supplements can be recommended on their own for postpartum depression. However, if you’ve been prescribed an antidepressant, data shows there should be no harm in also taking a dietary supplement; in fact, it may even be helpful in some ways.
Read more about the importance of prenatal and postnatal care
Sometimes partners, family, and friends can’t fully understand how you’re feeling. If you feel like you could use some more support, many groups can be found at local hospitals, community centers, and clinics. Your doctor may be able to recommend some support groups in your area, or you can find other useful resources and online support groups such as:
PMAD stands for postpartum (or perinatal) mood and anxiety disorder. Postpartum depression is one example of PMAD
PMAD affects one in seven women
The baby blues is a very real and common occurrence, but is different from postpartum depression or other PMAD conditions
Postpartum depression can’t be prevented, but some factors may increase your risk of developing it, such as a history of mood disorders, recent life changes outside of giving birth, hormone fluctuations, and more
There are treatments for postpartum depression including medication and talk therapy
It’s important to prioritize self care and healing when going through postpartum depression, including taking time for yourself, asking for help, and finding support through family, friends, and outside groups.