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the taboo of postpartum depression
I’m not sure how the fight started, but there I was in my bathroom, crying hysterically after running up the stairs, leaving my mother, who was holding Laila, and my father in the living room, both of whom were completely lost as to what had just happened. My mother and I fought like I went back in time to age 13 when I would argue with her about my ripped Levi bell bottom jeans. But this time it was about caring for my new child, and sometimes just a small disagreement would send a rush of emotions within me. And in those first few weeks right after giving birth of my parents’ visit, those quarrels always resulted in me bursting out into tears, into seeking hugs from my husband, mother or father and into naps that seemed to help so very much. It was beginning to get to a point in which I knew I had to find some help so I started to look into depression help at Honey Lake Clinic as well as from other clinics available to see what some of my options were.
When my parents left, it was time for my husband and I to find a routine, to figure out a schedule that worked for us. The problem was, like all infants, Laila wasn’t really on any type of schedule.
So the exhaustion continued, and there were nights we would be snappy at one another, highly unlike either of us, (who after 10 years of dating and 2 years of marriage, have the communication thing down pat), and times when or if he was just understandably cranky from lack of sleep and working all day, and would be quiet or distant, that I would feel it all over again…my chest tightening and the uncontrollable emotion that kicked in. Again resulting in feeling better after his amazing hugs.
Eventually I knew how to work with the sudden rush of emotion, the urge to cry and the exhaustion. I started using the tools that I had used during my pregnancy to always create a positive and safe place for my little one to grow, (I believe in the power of intention and energy quite a bit), and the same tools I used during many times before that, in moments of my father’s hospitalizations, times of losing loved ones, the areas of my life that I refer to as challenging to say the least. It was these methods, that got me through the first month of postpartum changes, and probably helped me steer away from a downward spiral that may have led to postpartum depression if I didn’t have the support and internal and external tools to cope.
I remember a friend of mine who I thought might be experiencing the depression, it was hard for her to even talk about that, let alone say the word.
I feel like there is this whole taboo around this. Postpartum depression. It’s as if people don’t want to say it, don’t want to talk about how to prevent it, or what to do if women feel it getting worse which is okay also. So, what is it? What causes it?
According to doctors, the first month of pregnancy is called “the baby blues”.
With the blues, you may have trouble sleeping and feel moody, teary, and overwhelmed. You usually have these feelings along with being happy about your baby. But “the baby blues” usually go away within a couple of weeks. Postpartum depression is what they call a serious illness that lasts past the period of baby blues and where moms feel sad, hopeless, incapable and have trouble bonding with the baby. it’s caused mainly by the hormonal changes, (as are the blues), but depression is developed when there are other factors as well such as poor support from your friends and family, a colicky baby and other stresses in your life. A more severe form is postpartum psychosis which needs medical treatment and can occur more likely if you have family history of depression and psychosis disorders such as bipolar disease.
Here are the things I did that helped me get through the baby blues:
Meditation, relaxation and staying present:
The first few weeks are rough if you plan on breastfeeding. You are already healing post childbirth and the sore nipples, sometimes cracked, the stress around establishing milk supply and all of it can be really tiresome and feel really DIFFERENT. What got me through was to always do a small meditation when I’d start, after she latched, I’d look at her and even if it was only 5 minutes, would remind myself how grateful I was for her. I would say over and over again, “I am grateful for your health, my health, your presence my love.” Sometimes, I’m not exaggerating, she would stop and look up at me and make a little newborn smile. This sudden rush of happiness would fill me when I did this. In medical terms, this rush of happiness is basically the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is referred to as the “love hormone”. I also would take a deep breath before and after feeding and reminded myself to stay present, that whatever happens today is today and tomorrow is a new day. And all the days are good days, whatever is present. Getting caught up in the stress of producing milk can actually hinder your milk supply. Any type of stress can. I noticed when I stopped focusing on how much milk, and stopped fixating on my supply as it dripped down into the bottle as I pumped, it seemed that my supply just doubled and was easy, (along with the help I got from home remedies, check out chai momma Shraddha’s post on increasing your milk supply– I did many of the same things). And if you aren’t breastfeeding for a reason other than choice, for instance, if you cannot due to a medical reason, remember to feel okay with it. Trusting whatever you are doing is key and essential in motherhood.
A friend of mine, who suffered badly with postpartum depression, decided she would try marijuana to try and help with her symptoms. She had smoked before, but not regularly. She was able to do this as she wasn’t breastfeeding. She was that happy with how it helped that she now smokes pretty regularly and has even started growing her own plants. Read more about growing your own marijuana if that interests you. However, if you’re not keen on the idea of smoking marijuana, she also told me that there are other ways to take marijuana. For example, non-smokers might find it easier to consider reducing their depression by taking some edibles, such as the ones offered by brands like twisted extracts. Whichever way works best for you, you should try. If you aren’t sure, you can always do research or speak with your doctor about using cannabis or CBD products for your depression. Alternatively, if you are just interested in looking at what cannabis and CBD have to offer, you can visit a cbd online dispensary or community and look around their catalog of products. My point is that you need to find something that works for you and stick to it. It’s also important to have mindful relaxation incorporated in your life. When your baby is napping or before you sleep, make time to mentally relax. This could mean just listening to soothing music or doing a guided meditation, (I often did ones by my meditation guru Tara Brach who has podcasts online too), or just taking a few minutes on my own to breathe in and out. I would take deep yogic breaths in and let in positive and breath out any negative thoughts. It would calm me and center me.
Use your support:
Lack of sleep is not easy in the beginning. Although during pregnancy you may have experienced this, (also check out my post on helping get better sleep during pregnancy), it’s different this time, because you have to be alert and awake and present for the baby that depends on you so much. I leaned on my partner at this time. While we both were super tired, it helped that we’d take turns, that I’d pump and he’d feed her in the middle of the night so I could get zzz’s some nights. You need sleep for milk supply also and to just heal well after your body recuperates from the physical trauma it just went through of giving birth. During the day, while my parents were here, I’d take a nap here and there. It’s important to use your support. If you don’t have family close by, call your friends or people you feel close to and trust. They want to visit also and it’s good to support your self with people you care about during this time.
There are awesome support groups to join that your hospital may recommend or local mommy and me groups. Staying social and meeting new people is also really important in lifting your mood and spirit. When my body starting feeling good again to drive and Laila was more accustomed to the world around her, I took her to a mommy and me and yoga class that was being offered in my community. It felt so wonderful to be there and connect with outer moms and also to have her connect with other babies 🙂 It felt good to get out too, and feel “normal”. It’s a great transition of the baby into your daily life to be around others who can understand and know what it is to be a new mommy.
Diet and exercise:
It’s hard, and actually felt impossible for me to exercise in the beginning. I am 8 weeks post delivery now and only am able to bring a better yoga routine into my days now. This was tough for someone like me, since even during pregnancy I was active. So I did what I could- I took walks. Getting fresh air was so important and it allowed me to get out and away from it all for a little bit as a little mommy moment. We all need this! It brings us clarity to our feelings, something that can get lost in the minute to minute care an infant requires. I also maintained a diet that supported breastfeeding, (avoiding certain foods, incorporating some of my mom’s and grandma’s ayurvedic foods that help healing and breastfeeding), did things like avoiding caffeine since that is linked to depression, and a diet that gave me enough calories for the energy I needed to heal and feed my baby and that felt good. I ate and still eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Your mind and body have a huge connection so remember that physical and emotional health are intertwined. I made sure and still do, that my meals continue to have omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 in them. Both of these help lift the ‘bad moods’ depression can bring on. I am a vegetarian, so I ate flax seed, nuts, soybeans and dark leafy vegetables but if you eat fish, ones like tuna and salmon have high contents of omega 3. I continued my prenatal vitamins to get adequate vitamin B12. I also eat healthy grains that are carbohydrates, since apparently carbs raise levels of serotonin which is a “feel good brain chemical” and give you energy. If you don’t have the support for home-cooked meals when you come home with your baby, this website is a great resource that helps with that. A friend of mine used it and loved it. It is a calendar for friends and loved ones to bring you meals during your time of recovery, it is called Meal Train.
Heal your body:
Remember that you are healing in those first few weeks. Use your support to help you with chores around the house and if possible, allow for therapies like massage and acupuncture that can help your body feel better. If your doctor has prescribed you anything for pain that is safe during breastfeeding, don’t be afraid to use it, you have to feel comfortable and pain free to feel good.
The sunshine always makes me feel good, (it’s partly why I live in California!). Those beginning weeks you can feel like you are cooped up in your house, I made sure to get out and if it wasn’t to for a walk, I’d sit outside on my deck while feeding the baby or bringing her out in her snugabunny, (which she adores), to just let the sun send me some of those feel good rays.
Writing is my therapy. It helps me release emotion and I always feel better after. Sometimes it’s not even about my feelings, I will write a poem or start a short story. It’s my form of creative expression. Whatever that is for you, whether its dance or painting, take a little time out to do this every once in awhile. I love photography also and I started taking photographs of my daughter recently and then editing them has made me feel like motherhood is part of my creative expression.
Talk about how you feel:
I remember the moments I felt upset, sometimes I would talk to my sister or my husband or mom and it just felt so good to get it out. It was a release. I know that if I had kept it all in, it would have just built up and that can’t be healthy at all to internalize that. Don’t feel silly to talk to your partner, part of this process is also building communication between the two of you, this is a new journey you are taking and important for you both to be on it together. You can also talk to other loved ones and friends, like I did with my sister. Whoever it is, let down your guard of whose judging you and what it looks like. Once you let go of this ‘ego’ as we call it in yoga, you will feel that amazing open release.
Seek help if this all doesn’t work:
One of the things I saw a friend go through which was hard was that she didn’t seek help, perhaps because of the fear or inadequacy associated with reaching out for help. Talk to your doctor who can guide you. Remember that there is nothing wrong with you, that if you need help, it’s out there and there is a lot you can do that will help you feel better and care for yourself to in turn give your baby the best care, as well.
Having a child is one of the happiest experiences for women, and becoming and being a mother is a gift, so you want to do everything you can to be able to fully embrace and enjoy it. Being on cloud nine with her has been the most amazing feeling, I can’t wait for more 🙂
Great article Puja! I personally experienced this and it was soooo hard for me to accept it, even though being a physician I knew that this was a “normal” hormonal reaction. I was able to get out of it with the help of an amazing husband and super supportive family and friends. But really, the turning point for me was the day I accepted that I was suffering from PPD and I had to work to get out of it. That acceptance came after a close friend proudly admitted to me that she experienced it as well and made me realize that there is no shame in accepting it and working to get out of PPD. So great job on the article. I hope other women can realize that this is not uncommon and if others can conquer it then they can as well:)