Last week's post hopefully helped you to better understand and identify postpartum depression. It was a post that was both factual as well as candid (and it certainly only reflection a small fraction of my own pregnancy & postpartum experience).
This week I want to share the top tips on how to navigate those inevitable postpartum anxiety and depression symptoms. I want to remind you to always get consultation with a licensed provider when you're wondering even just a smidge if your baby blues border on needing additional help. Seriously. Please. We ladies need to stop this thinking for a minute that we can do it all AND be on our emotional and mental A-game, especially after the stress of giving birth to a live creature who now NEEDS YOU 24 hours a day 7 days a week while every cell in your body aches.
That being said, I hope this post gives you a guideline for how to take special care with yourself in that first year after baby, when you're at your most vulnerable in so many ways. While the science defines the post-partum period as the first weeks to a year, for the sake of this list let's scratch that "first year" thing -- because I mean, come on, does it really ever get so much easier? I'm going to encourage you to continue to infuse these rules as the holy grail of ongoing motherhood self-care. Because these guidelines remain just as important when your baby is 2, 3, 4, & 17 months as when she's 2, 3, 4, & 17 years.
Top Tips for Managing Postpartum & Baby Blues
1. Make time just for you: Yes, you heard it. "But I'm breastfeeding/trapped on the couch being mercilessly milked by a pump/exhausted/haven't showered for days!" I know. I KNOW. But do it anyway. I don't care if it's a 5 minute walk (hunchbacked and hobbling if you just delivered) around the block to get fresh air and a dose of whatever weather is happening. You don't need childcare help to do this, either. How many times do you spend your baby's nap elbows deep in the sink cleaning all those little bottle parts? Let em' soak a minute and curl up on the couch with a magazine just for once. You need it more than you will ever know; and you'll realize how much you needed it when you do it. Don't just do it once. Make it regular. Schedule it in. Don't let a day go by where you can't tick this off in your head as having been done.
2. Get Moving: If you read #1, you'll know that I fully empathize with and understand that this commandment may literally not be possible during the first week (or more) of healing. But once you're able to move, please do. And I don't mean exercising for weight loss. For the love of god, your body just did something incredible and epic, give it a break. Just move for yourself. Go for a stroll that gets your heart rate up, and then maybe once you're able to, do something more intense like your favorite group class. Moving your body is going to help align yourself, release those super important endorphins. and strengthen your body again after the difficulties of labor. Don't create rules for yourself around this like before you were pregnant; this isn't the space to be demanding that you return to your daily SoulCycle routine. Do what your body can handle or less. But do it. Your body is amazing already (fact. the end. remember what it just did?), so do it for you.
3. Rest: Seriously, if one more person told me to "sleep when the baby sleeps" I was about to lose my brain. For me, sleeping when the baby slept existed in some fairy tale; so kudos to you mama, if you do this already. KEEP DOING IT. But if you're nuts mama like me and spent every waking moment awake (read: cleaning), then couldn't fall asleep for at least two hours again every time the baby woke up during the night, then you and I gots some talking to do. Is sitting down for just one of those baby naps an option? Can you lie down, close your eyes and put your feet up on the wall to restore circulation and simply relax your body for your baby's 20 minute snooze? Can your partner, or even just a family member who comes over, take duties on one night feed or even day feed? Again, I get it -- as a new mom, you laugh in the face of rest. Rest is a farce. A long lost tropical vacation. But if you want to get serious about your mom health, let's find a way to weave this in as a recurring priority.
4. Eat: Sigh. I've seen this take on so many different forms for women. There's an internal battle raging with ourselves about losing that kanga-pouch we see when we look down; and it doesn't help when Suzy Creamcheese Country Star is on the cover of People looking like she just won a swimsuit competition with the accompanying headline "she's back two weeks after giving birth!". Repeat after me: That is not reality. If your entire livelihood centered on you looking like that, you'd probably have worked 24/7 to achieve it and then used photo-shop, too. But you're a real woman. So, let's talk about food. Because you need it. And the good stuff. If you're producing breast milk in any way (whether breastfeeding or pumping) you're likely starved. Your body is demanding that you eat. It needs all those calories to produce food for your child. And, also, your body is still healing. For a long time. So, it's a good idea to take a moment to examine your diet. With so much to do as a new mom, most semblance of a quality diet goes by the wayside. I can't tell you how many Nature Valley Peanut Butter Bars I ate at 2, 4, and 6 AM.... But, if you can consider the various parts of the food pyramid and try to infuse whatever part you're neglecting, this is a huge help to yourself.
5. Find a community: Aka: don't isolate. And by community, I mean the right community. This can be tough as a new mom. When I had Stella, I was living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and so I joined a few MeetUp groups for new moms. But, as a mom who couldn't breastfeed and was exclusively pumping. I emotionally struggled when I joined the group who gathered to chat while breastfeeding their babies by the Central Park Reservoir. Finding a group I could relate to was not easy, but I kept trying. Finally, I found a few new moms who enjoyed taking walks through the park while chatting about our many feelings about returning to our careers. Whatever it is, find your tribe. Please don't mis-interpret this point as needing to find like-minded people only. You know how I feel about celebrating individual differences. But the post-partum period is a particularly delicate and vulnerable time like no other on very emotional and personal levels. It's a time where we are extremely susceptible to self-comparison and self-judgment. You'll know immediately when hanging out with a community makes you feel worse rather than better, so listen to yourself. Find just one person who makes you feel good to be around. For me, it was also my sister who was on maternity leave at the same time as me. It doesn't need to be an entire group, but what I want is for you not to isolate. Isolation can happen so easily for moms. And what moms want more than anything else is to feel connected and human again outside of their role as just mothers; to validate each other's realities and have a space to support each other's struggles. This is immensely important. Some ideas on how to do this are to search for groups in your area for new moms on Facebook and MeetUp.com. If that's not vibing for you, connect with the family or friends you already have just to talk and be with one another.
I hope that my top 5 tips for managing the post-partum (slash all of motherhood) period provides you with some of the guidance and insight you need. I know that you know this on some level already, but a well mom = a well baby and kids. I can't emphasize that enough. As an additional point, I want to ask you to pay attention to that nagging part of you that's telling you there's something making you particularly unhappy or feel unhinged. What is it? Is it something you can possibly change or let go of?
For me, it was exclusive pumping. After spending 5+ months hooked up to a pump day and night to provide for my daughter who couldn't breastfeed, I finally lost it. I had privately long known that I was driving myself crazy and making myself genuinely miserable, as well as losing many precious hours I could actually have been spending with my child, all for the quest to produce every last ounce of "liquid gold." I had been internally arguing with myself about it for weeks and months. Then one exhausted night I still had to pump before going to bed. I hit rock bottom and broke. After some screams, sobs, and throwing the pump parts onto the carpet, I once and for all decided to let go control and just finally STOP. Yes; I struggled with guilt, shame, doubt... you name it... and... I was also so much happier than I had ever been. My proverbial handcuffs were off! I was mentally leaping through sunny fields of wildflowers! Maybe for you its something different; I don't know what it is for you, but you do. Do you need to talk to your partner about it? Journal about it to help you arrive at the answer? Seek professional consultation?
I implore us mamas to consider the individual things that are most in the way of our wellness and happiness and find a way to reconcile it. We are so willing and ready to sacrifice everything we have for our babies. And we do. Often at the cost of our own well-being. But as moms, we share our life, breath, and hearts with our children. And so our well-being IS our children's, too.
*Important note: Medication management is not included in this list. However, this is often an essential part of achieving and re-establishing wellness for a new mom. Your counselor should connect you with a reliable and experienced prescriber, if after assessment she believes that psychotropic medication may be of help to you.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.