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Considering how difficult the postpartum period was with my first child–how much I struggled with my mental health for months on end—it was a wonder that my husband and I decided to take the plunge again. So when we finally decided to have a second, we were both on high alert for any signs of depression or anxiety.
I knew that I needed to be cautious this time; after all, women who have experienced postpartum depression with previous births are 10% to 50% more likely to experience it again. Even still, there were parts of me that were certain that this time would be different, and that the worst was behind us.
What I came to find is that with each new child brings new challenges, both as a mom and as an individual. In the case of my second child, I realized that the timing of her birth (and my subsequent maternity leave) was a challenge that I had not anticipated.
You see, my first child was born in April—a time of budding flowers and warming temperatures. My second? She was born mid-November. I think it rained consistently for the first three months of her life!
Now that she’s coming up on her first birthday, I am reflecting on my recent postpartum period. What were some things that I did to keep my mental health in check? How did I—despite the potential odds—manage to cope with a newborn, even during the gloomy months?
Here are some things that I did that may be helpful to any new, or expecting, mom (and dad!) out there:
Make a Plan
There is so much preparation before having a baby: buying all the essential baby items, reading the books, taking the classes. But how about making a wellness plan? Perinatal Support Washington has an awesome template that breaks down wellness into a few different categories.
After all, wellness isn’t just one thing. There are so many ways to build up one’s resilience. Thinking about yourself holistically is important; what are you made up of? Consider the brain, the body, and the spirit. All are important for your overall wellbeing.
Lean On Your Person
One of the categories in the wellness template is your Support Team. How important these people are! During these complicated times, my heart goes out to all the new moms and caregivers out there who may not have the physical support of a family member or loved one.
I encourage new parents to think creatively. Your Support Team might not look the way you’d expected or wanted. The support may not come in the form that you’d envisioned. But who is in your circle of trusted people that can be your ally? It can be a husband, partner, parent, neighbor, or friend. Heck—it can be your healthcare provider!
The most important thing is that you have someone who checks in and who watches for potential trouble. Go over your mental health red flags with these individuals before the big day: What do you look like, sound like, or act like when things are getting too hard? And if they begin to notice anything, they need to feel empowered to make the call.
Practice Self-Care (no, really!)
This is way more easily said than done. Here are just a few things that I recommend and that worked for me:
- Create structure out of chaos: Babies love routine; providing a bit of structure can even enhance your baby’s development! While it may not be feasible to break your day (and night) down to the minute, it can be useful to write down a flexible schedule. This is especially helpful for the days that seem to drag on—when all you seem to be doing is feeding a baby, changing diapers, and running the laundry.
Apps like Vroom or Bright By Text can help you to fill your routine by providing simple ideas for activities that you can do with your little one.
- Go outside: I cannot overstate this enough! Even when the days are drizzly and cold, bundle up and get some fresh air. After all, infants are the perfect walking companion. An infant carrier or wrap will mimic the feeling of being safe and cozy in the womb, and it will also allow you to be hands-free for a moment.
My gloomy-day recommendation is to look up while you walk, instead of staring at the pavement. When you are exhausted and overwhelmed, it can be easy to feel weighted down. Even when the clouds are thick and there is no sun in sight, keep your gaze up and look at the trees, houses, and scenery around you.
- Breathe: This was the best advice my midwife gave me when I was first struggling with postpartum anxiety. It is also something that I’ve carried with me since then, for whenever I am feeling overwhelmed.
When we’re stressed or anxious, we forget to breathe deeply. But this is the easiest—and perhaps most effective—way to put yourself at ease. Try a deep breathing exercise to calm your nerves. Try breathing in through your nose for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, and exhale through your mouth for 6 counts. It really does help!
- Take care of the essentials: This isn’t a novel idea, but it is also one of the first things that goes out the door when you bring a new baby home!
YOU are the most important part of the equation. YOUR health and YOUR wellbeing directly impact your ability to care for your new baby. Eat well, drink lots of water, and try to get a little sleep. While it may not be eight (or even five) hour stretches, a 3-4 hour stretch can make a world of difference.
A tip from me to you? Talk to your doctor about nutrition: What vitamins can help to elevate mood, and what foods are especially important during the postpartum period? Your body and hormones fluctuate on hyper-drive after giving birth, and eating well is so important.
- Laugh and dance: I did not take this advice the first time around. I don’t think I laughed for six weeks after my first daughter was born. But with my second? I let my freak flag fly!
Try doing something silly…after all, your baby won’t judge! Put some slippery socks on and see how far you can slide across your kitchen floor—just make sure to put the baby down first! Sing at the top of your lungs to songs that you haven’t heard since childhood, or listen to a funny podcast. You will find yourself laughing at yourself and the weird things that you do with little sleep and baby-brain. Embrace the weird.
If all else fails, just smile. Smile at yourself in the mirror, smile at your baby, smile at your partner. Even if it feels phony at first, keep doing it!
You are not alone in these feelings; it is normal to feel overwhelmed during the postpartum period. If nothing above seems to improve your mood, talk to your doctor. I urge you to not let mom guilt get in the way of your wellbeing—and I promise, there is little else stronger in this world than mom guilt.
Not ready to talk to a doctor just yet? That’s okay! There are resources available to you. Perinatal Support Washington’s website is a great place to start. Call or text their Warmline at 1-888-404-7763 to talk with a professional today.
Skagit County also has a great resource for new parents! Visit Welcome Baby to get connected up to local support groups, parenting classes, and assistance with basic needs.
You can and will get through this time. Yes, there are extra challenges right now and yes, the days seem long (and yet, so short). Even still, you are strong, capable, and so perfect for your little one. Give these tips a try, and give yourself some much needed grace.