By Olivia Bergeron, LCSW
As a psychotherapist who treats pregnant women and new moms, I encounter postpartum depression (PPD) a lot. Incredibly, one in seven women experiences PPD after giving birth, and it often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Because moms so badly want to be good parents to their children, you can imagine how heartbreaking it can be for a mother to feel sad, anxious and depressed following the birth of a child. With therapy, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent, but is there a way to avoid all the heartbreak to begin with?
While I can offer no magic bullet, there are definitely ways to minimize the risk of experiencing PPD. And the best part about taking these steps? You’ll also be making the transition to parenthood much easier by preparing yourself and your partner for the huge changes ahead.
Here are six things you can do before and after baby arrives:
• Line up as much postpartum support as you need, and then some. I tell my pregnant clients to prepare as if they were having twins. Somehow the idea of having two babies really motivates parents! Get family, friends, neighbors, postpartum doulas, and anyone else you can think of, ready to help you with chores and caring for the baby in the first months. There is no such thing as too much help and no shame in accepting it.
• Schedule a mental health “check up.” If you have a history of depression or anxiety,
schedule a session with a therapist or psychiatrist before the baby arrives to discuss
a postpartum plan in case of a relapse. Talk about what worked best to overcome the
depression or anxiety the last time you got treatment and look at ways to incorporate
these tactics after you give birth. It can be a huge relief to know you have a plan
prepared in advance, just in case the going gets rough after birth. Early intervention also
results in a faster recovery should PPD occur, so don’t wait to get help.
• Don’t isolate yourself. Many new parents are surprised at how lonely and isolating it
can be when you have a baby. This is particularly true if you are the first among your
friends to have a baby, or you live far from family. The internet can be a real lifeline
for new parents looking to avoid isolation. Sign up for one of the local yahoo parenting
groups in your neighborhood (groups.yahoo.com) to find out news and information
about parent gatherings. Look for new parent support groups and “baby and me”
classes at the library, religious center or baby gym, all great places to meet other
parents. The sooner you develop a network of other new parents to commiserate with,
the more connected you’ll feel.
• Nurture yourself with quality, nutritious foods. New parents are sleep deprived as a
rule and most don’t have time to cook or eat elaborate meals. Oftentimes, they end up
relying on caffeine and unhealthy snacks as a crutch. Caffeine can seriously exacerbate
anxious feelings and sharp spikes in blood sugar can contribute to moodiness. Make
sure you have healthy, quick meals and snacks on hand and minimize or avoid caffeine
• Begin gentle exercise once you get medical clearance. Exercise has been shown to
be as effective as antidepressants in some studies. Once you get the green light from
your healthcare provider, begin gentle exercises, outside if possible. Sunshine and
fresh air are great mood boosters as well. Note: if you are prone to panic attacks, avoid
strenuous exercise, which can trigger an attack.
• Put off big life changes. Stress is a PPD risk factor, so try to avoid major life stressors,
such as changing jobs or moving, until you get settled as a family, if at all possible.
But even with all the preparation possible, some women will still fall victim to postpartum depression through absolutely no fault of their own. Stress, isolation and fatigue are all contributing factors to PPD, but so is biology or a family history of depression and anxiety, which is completely out of our control. However, armed with the knowledge of where to go and what to do, new parents can get treated and go on to experience the joy they always hoped a child would bring. By seeking help early, new moms can give themselves and their new baby the best gift of all: a happy, healthy parent.
Olivia Bergeron, LCSW, is the founder of Mommy Groove Therapy & Support (MommyGroove.com). She is a psychotherapist who specializes in helping parents, and particularly moms, to become less anxious and depressed and more confident so that they can best enjoy their children and families. She has an office in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and makes home visits for clients in Manhattan and Brooklyn. She lives in New York City with her husband, daughter and twin sons. She can be reached at 917.397.0323 or at [email protected]