How to cope with postpartum depression
New parents face many challenges, but leading an effective life after childbirth requires more energy than they have. If you’re a parent struggling with postpartum depression and having trouble coping, this article is for you.
Postpartum depression can be difficult to deal with. It doesn’t only affect mothers - it can affect any parent, even if they haven't directly given birth. Whether you’re struggling or you want to help someone else, we’ve compiled some more information on postpartum depression and how to cope with it. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and there are places you can reach out to for support.
What does postpartum depression look like?
Postpartum depression is different from the ‘baby blues’, which is a more common problem affecting up to 80% of women postpartum. The baby blues can happen during the first week after birth, where mothers can feel tearful, sad, or anxious. This is caused by a huge drop in your hormones (such as oestrogen) postpartum, which can result in mood swings.
However, the baby blues are temporary. Postpartum depression has much longer-lasting effects and can start any time within a year after giving birth. Some of the most identifiable symptoms include:
Change in appetite and sleep
You may lose your appetite or binge-eat. You may also find that you lack energy and want to sleep all the time, or you can’t sleep at all. This can affect your moods, as food and sleep are some of the most important things for our health.
Feelings of anger or shame
You may find that you’re more irritable, more easily prone to anger, and suffer from mood swings.
Feeling worthless, hopeless, or inadequate
Much of your postpartum depression can emerge from thoughts such as “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t be a proper parent”, or “I don’t know what I’m doing”. These can cause you to feel low, affecting other areas of your life.
Lack of affection towards your baby
Some parents may find that they’ll bring their baby home after birth and feel nothing. People talk about how you fall in love with your baby straight away, but if you’re struggling with postpartum depression you may find that these feelings just aren’t there yet.
What can cause it?
There are a number of factors that can cause postpartum depression. The sudden change in hormones that birth brings, whilst more commonly resulting in the baby blues, can have a long-term effect and end up becoming postpartum depression.
You're also more likely to suffer from it if you or your immediate family have a history of depression or other disorders like anxiety, OCD, or bipolar. This isn't a guarantee that you're going to suffer from it, but it can increase the risk.
Other factors also come into play. If you have additional stress in your life, such as relationship problems or money problems, this can add to your negative emotions.
However, postpartum depression can affect anybody; you don't have to have extra problems or a history of mental illness to suffer from it. It can help to be aware of these factors, but they aren’t a guarantee of whether you’ll experience postpartum depression.
How can it affect your baby?
If part of your struggle with postpartum depression is that you have no feelings for your baby, this could mean you struggle to bond with your child during the early stages of their life. It's okay to be unsure about your feelings towards your baby, especially if they're linked to anxious thoughts that you can’t help.
If you can, try and stimulate connection anyway. Babies can pick up on second-hand emotions - this doesn't necessarily mean your baby will be affected by your postpartum depression, but they'll be able to sense that something isn't right. Cuddling with your baby, feeding them, and playing with them can all stimulate them and help you create a connection, even if your mind isn't in the right place.
How can it affect your relationship with your partner?
Postpartum depression can have a huge effect on your relationship. When you're struggling with your mental health, or your partner is struggling with theirs, it has a knock-on effect on your relationship with each other. This can be upsetting, and it doesn't help if you're already feeling fragile. Here's what you can do to make things easier:
Communication is one of the most important parts of any relationship. When you communicate with your partner, you can understand what they need, where they’re coming from, and what you can do to help. By listening and talking, you can manage the stress in your lives together.
Even if you don’t understand where your partner’s coming from, it’s important to be empathetic. Prioritising both of your emotions is key. Sometimes your partner may just want you to acknowledge and validate their feelings.
Ask for help
Don't be afraid to reach out for support. In a relationship you should be able to rely on each other and hold each other up when things get tricky. Make sure you ask for help when you think you need it.
Ways to manage postpartum depression
Managing postpartum depression will look different for everyone. Some people may be high-functioning, some may be low-functioning, but you shouldn’t compare your experience with anyone else’s. What you need to know about postpartum depression is this: it can happen to anyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated.
Establish a routine
It may seem difficult, especially if your postpartum depression makes you listless and exhausted, but having a routine can help you manage. For example, maybe you take 15 minutes when you first wake up to spend time in your baby's room and mentally prepare for the day. Perhaps you write a to-do list each night for the next morning. Maybe you use a timer to help you stick to your routine.
Don't be afraid to cut corners, though. If part of your nighttime routine is to do the dishes, for example, but you don’t have the energy, maybe just stack them by the sink and try again the next day. Doing just a little bit is better than doing nothing at all.
Rely on others
Asking for help can sometimes be the most difficult step, especially if your depression makes you feel like a burden. However, a problem shared is a problem halved. It can be hard to know when to ask for help, but if you do it properly, it can make all the difference.
If you have a partner, ask if they can pick up tasks for you or look after your baby so you can take time for yourself. If you need time with your partner without your baby, see if trusted family or friends can look after them for an evening. When others lend a helping hand, impossible-seeming tasks can become much more manageable.
Understand your limits
You don’t have to be at 100% all the time. You also don’t have to push yourself further than you can manage. Knowing your limits means you can adapt your day-to-day life to help make things easier for you or someone you know. If you need rest, take it, but if you think you'll feel better for completing a task, see if that's within your realm of possibility.
Seek professional help
If your symptoms are prolonged, you can book a GP appointment and they can provide a referral for free counselling on the NHS. You can also ask about medication to help you manage your postpartum depression. However, these depend on a case-by-case basis, so speak with your GP if you have any questions.
Organisations such as Parents 1st UK, the PANDAS Foundation, and Samaritans can all provide free advice for anyone struggling with their mental health postpartum.
Final thoughts from Kinhub
Adapting to life with a baby can be difficult, even if you’ve done it before. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, understand that your struggles are valid and they don’t make you weak. Every parent has a different experience, and postpartum depression is one aspect of parenthood that’s important to highlight. Remember that you’re not alone, and there are always places you can go to for support and help.