Years ago I remember watching Molly Ringwald in For Keeps. She was a teen mom who moved out with her boyfriend into a crappy studio apartment and the struggle was real for Molly. After the baby was born she didn’t want to touch it or hold it and she stayed in bed for days (until she thought she was in danger and her mama bear kicked in). I remember thinking to myself, “why? How could she not touch her baby?” Mind over matter, right? Then I had Isabella. After a few weeks of complete exhaustion on multiple fronts, it hit hard. Baby blues turned from blue to dark.
I didn’t realize it was even happening. It’s not like I didn’t want to hold my baby or that I never wanted to let her go. It was this faint and suppressed thought in my head that sang “get in the car. drive. don’t stop until you hit California. Start over.” I ignored it. I thought I was a horrible person for thinking it and I hated myself for thinking it. And as always, I put up a front that life was good, I was great, things were great. But the song became louder and louder. Until I found myself, a person that can’t even force a tear at a funeral, crying in a target baby isle. Completely overwhelmed by what I had just took on in becoming a mother. As I clenched my keys and thought “California” I finally stopped and called my mom. Then I called my OB.
It’s real. It’s hard. And the rabbit hole runs deep. Postpartum depression is a step further than the common “baby blues” that up to 80% of new mothers go through. And if you’ve had it once, you’re 50% more likely to have it again. Regardless of why it happens, which is still not scientifically certain, postpartum happens. Even knowing this, I didn’t know it could happen to me.
If you have it, you need help and it’s okay to need help. Here are 12 things to help prevent and heal postpartum depression.
- Get into a routine. It can be as simple as waking up and getting out of bed at a certain time, planning a shower, or planning on eating dinner by 7:30. The Depression and Research Clinic at UCLA explains that depression strips away structure and part of fighting that is to reintroduce a gentle structure into your day.
- Set Goals. Little goals. Goals that make you seem like the world’s tiniest giant, will still help you feel like a giant. Make sure these goals are for you, and not over forces you can’t control (like whether the baby poops or burps or sleeps at a certain time). It can be a goal to take a shower or wash your hair. Accomplishing little steps at a time will help you feel accomplished at a time when life feels like it’s slipping.
- Exercise. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Walking to the mailbox is exercising, or at least a start.
- Eat and Eat Healthy. Hangry is a real thing. Not eating and not eating enough, can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Your brain requires blood sugar in order to function well. When the sugar drops, the first cognitive process to drop the ball is self-control. This affects your ability to handle stress, regulate your emotions, and avoid being impulsive and aggressive.
- Sleep. It’s another thing that affects your brain’s ability to function. Sleep when the baby sleeps or when the baby is awake. Who cares? Just sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. It sounds easier said than done but it’s not. Babies sleep all day. If you have other babies, that’s when it’s harder. Ask for help. Which leads me to number six.
- Be vocal. To your partner, to your parents, to your friends. Be vocal. Do so before you have the baby and before you’re falling down the rabbit hole. Explain postpartum and ways to prevent it so that they can also watch for signals and help you through it. Tell them how they can help you. If you start to feel blue, talk about your stress and your sadness. It’s therapeutic (and the very reason psychologists have jobs).
- Ask for help. This is the hardest thing for me to do. But force yourself to do it. Ask for help before the baby is born so that everyone knows where they can alleviate your burden once you become burdened. Talk to your partner, plan out a shift in responsibilities. They call them a partner for a reason. You’re a team. Having babies is no spectator sport. They want to help, your family wants to help, your mother WANTS WANTS WANTS to help. I remember the first night home with Isabella, it was dawn and she wouldn’t stop crying. Seth and I couldn’t get her to stop. I finally opened the door to ask my mom what to do. Bless her heart for being the best mother ever, she was sitting outside the door, just waiting for me to need her. I needed her. You need people too.
- Let it go. Let the laundry pile up, let the floor get dirty, let the fridge go empty. Let it go. Let someone else deal with it. It’s not important. Take-out was invented for this very reason. As was Amazon (buy some new underwear, don’t bother washing the old ones). The only thing important to work on is the well being of your baby and yourself. Set the bar low and LET IT GO.
- Take something on. May seem against everything I’ve been saying but do it. Challenging ourselves with a new responsibility or a new hobby, increases the dopamine in our brain (that’s the chemical associated with enjoyment, pleasure, and learning).
- Have fun. Even if it seems like life can’t be fun anymore. Try and try again. Even if you have to drive to Disney World and ride Space Mountain time and time again until you feel something. Have fun until it feels like fun again.
- Surround yourself with people like you. Other mothers are sometimes the best way to counteract feelings of inadequacy and depression. It feels good to be understood and no one will understand you as a new mom as much as a new mom. If your friends aren’t new moms, there’s a whole community of them online. Connect, start venting, and start supporting others. When we support others going through the same thing we are, we are supporting ourselves. There’s no self-help like helping others.
- Get some sun. No joke. The sun releases vitamin D and stimulates serotonin levels in your brain. When I say “the beach makes me happy” it’s really in part, the sun LITERALLY making me happy. Go outdoors for at least ten minutes everyday and I promise, the sun will help lighten your spirits.
A happy mama may not mean a happy baby, but it definitely gives you better chances. Take care of you. If you’re struggling and need to talk to someone, like always, I’m here. Please comment with your stories and your tips to help other mothers struggling with postpartum.