Becoming pregnant and having a baby is one of the biggest changes that a couple or individual goes through in their life. Having a baby changes all aspects of a couple’s life including physical, emotional and financial changes. In our society today, the challenges of parenthood aren’t openly discussed and often parents aren’t well equipped for these challenges.
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that impacts new parents within the first year after birth. Postpartum depression is usually diagnosed when symptoms are present for more than two weeks and cause significant impacts to the parent’s everyday life.
Postpartum depression and anxiety can impact one or both parents and is experienced by one in five Australian mums and one in ten Australian partners. Many parents, however, feel ashamed to admit that they have developed postpartum depression and thus don’t seek help.
This blog aims to explore postpartum depression to further increase the awareness, break down the stigma and encourage those suffering from postpartum depression to seek help and to prioritise their own individual self-care.
Understanding postpartum depression: symptoms, causes and treatment options
Symptoms of postpartum depression
Many people think that postpartum depression only exists when you have thoughts about self-harm or suicide however, there is a range of symptoms that people may have. Postpartum depression impacts everyone in unique ways, however usually symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- • Low mood or feeling numb
- • Feeling guilty, shameful, hopeless, worthless, angry, sad, resentful, or irritable
- • Feeling tearful all the time
- • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
- • Fear of going out
- • Fear of being alone with the baby
- • Fear of not knowing what to do
- • Reoccurring negative thoughts
- • Changes in appetite
- • Withdrawing from social contact and social situations
- • Feeling unmotivated and unable to cope with daily routine
- • Thoughts of suicide, self-harm or harm to your baby
There are many contributing factors for the development of postpartum depression. Hormonal changes, lack of sleep and the physical demands of having a new baby can take a massive toll on the mental health of both parents. These factors along with life experiences, genetic components and social factors can contribute to the development of postpartum depression. However postpartum depression does not discriminate, and you do not have to have a previous history of postpartum depression to develop it.
Many new parents struggle with accepting that they have developed postpartum depression, combined with the stigma that can be associated with postpartum depression and thus creating a barrier to parents seeking help. However, seeking help early has been shown to have great benefits in the uptake and success of the treatment options.
There are many different options to help you work through your postpartum depression and/or anxiety. The treatment that is recommended to you often depends on the severity of your postpartum depression as well as your opinion on treatments.
Treatment can include:
Starting the conversation with your GP, Midwife, Obstetrician or Child and Family Health nurse is usually the first step to treatment so that you are aware of the specific services and options available to you.
Having a family member or a friend who is able to provide a listening ear without judgement or without trying to ‘fix’ things can be really helpful in having your feelings validated.
If the parent is concerned about being judged and doesn’t want to open up to family and friends, there are many support groups or free online help groups such as the Gidget Virtual Village. This may help the parent work through their postpartum depression or encourage the parent to seek help from a professional if required.
Other options for seeking help include:
psychological and counselling support
With eligible psychologists and counsellors families are able to claim back the cost of up to 10 of their sessions on Medicare.
During these sessions you may try to identify your emotional triggers, explore past experiences, discuss your thoughts and feelings and work through any negative thought patterns, especially any intrusive thoughts that a parent may be having. During these sessions you may also be given some coping strategies and confidence in your parenting ability.
There are many medications that can be prescribed by a GP or Psychologist to help parents with their postpartum depression. Breastfeeding mother’s may feel concerned taking medications while breastfeeding, however there are many medication options that are breastfeeding friendly.
Although, self-care is not a specific treatment for postpartum depression it can help to improve your mood, help you feel refreshed, motivated and more confident in your postpartum journey. Therefore, prioritising self-care may help you to reduce the severity of the symptoms of postpartum depression, especially when used alongside other treatments.
During the postpartum period it is essential that new parents make time for themselves and prioritise their own well-being. Self-care is essential for new parents to help maintain their emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.
Self-care can be in any form that suits you, what might fill up your cup will be completely different to what fills up someone else’s cup. So, it might mean that you need to experiment with a few different options to find what suits you the best.
Some common forms of self-care include:
This could mean that you grab a coffee and go for a walk, go for a run, play a sport or go to the gym. Anything that’s going to get your endorphins flowing and make you feel good. Another physical way to relax might be through getting a massage or cuddling with your partner on the lounge.
This could mean that you go to a group meditation class, download a meditation app, talk to a friend, or talk to a psychologist.
Taking care of your mental health through trying to improve your sleep by going to bed earlier at night, or relaxing with a nice warm bath with some b.box body products and then moisturising after by yourself in the evenings.
Benefits of self-care in the postpartum period
Self-care not only has many benefits for your mental health but also for your physical health. Self-care can dramatically improve your mood and energy, through both the release of endorphins and oxytocin (your feel-good hormones) but also through reminding you that you are important.
Furthermore, the release of these feel-good hormones helps to reduce feelings of sadness, anxiety and isolation. In addition, the postpartum period can feel overwhelming as there are many aspects that are out of your control. Prioritising yourself and taking time to participate in self-care can give you a feeling of control, empowerment and thus improve your overall health.
Having a baby is one of the biggest physical and emotional changes that women go through, and self-care can promote physical healing after birth. Through focusing on improving your body and mind after birth you can focus on rest, recovery, reducing your pain and therefore promoting your physical healing after birth.
Taking time away to look after yourself both physically and emotionally, means that you are less likely to feel drained and unmotivated when you’re around your baby.
Thus, reducing feelings of resentment and helping you to optimise the time that you are spending together. This in turn can help to improve bonding with your baby and/or children and you can focus on creating special memories together.
Additionally, some women may feel resentment towards their partners sense of freedom during the postpartum period, these feelings are totally normal and participating in self-care can help you to feel a sense of freedom and thus reduce feelings of resentment towards your partner.
Finally, going to bed at the end of the day calm, relaxed, with a healthy mind and some endorphins flowing through your body can help to improve your sleep. You may be able to both fall asleep faster, go to bed earlier and therefore get a better overall night’s sleep – even if your little one wakes frequently overnight. Improved sleep, mental and physical health can help to boost your immunity and therefore improve your overall health. Meaning there’s no reason you shouldn’t prioritise self-care!!
Tips for doing self-care during the postpartum period
It is so important to learn about the challenges of the postpartum period during pregnancy. This can help you have discussions with your partner about how you can actually prioritise yourself going into the postpartum period as well as how your partner can assist you to prioritise self-care.
So, for example - you may have a discussion with your partner to organise that you have an hour day each day, where your partner will take the baby so you can do self-care in whatever way suits you - whether that's going for a massage or having a relaxing bath to prioritise yourself.
As with any type of self-care it is essential to do regular exercise and get enough sleep.
The type of exercise you do will depend on how far into your postpartum journey you are, however starting with a gentle walk is a great place to start to get those endorphins flowing and improve both your physical and mental health.
Furthermore, sleep has massive impacts on both our mental and our physical health, so if we're going to prioritise ourselves and prioritise self-care, then we need to prioritise getting enough sleep. Obviously with a new baby you're going to be awake regularly overnight and that is completely normal.
Although you’re not going to be getting 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep anymore, you can try to maximise your sleep by going to bed earlier in the evening, so instead of going to bed at 10:00 or 11:00 PM you can go to go to sleep around 6:00 PM, or you can try and make sure that you take a nap in the afternoon.
Remember, postpartum depression is a serious complication that parents may develop after having a baby and it is nothing for you to be ashamed about. Postpartum depression can occur anytime during the first year after birth and is often diagnosed when symptoms last longer than 2 weeks. There are many treatments available and it is important to discuss these treatments with your healthcare provider to find the option that suits you and your family the best.
Self-care is essential during the postpartum period to improve your mental, physical and emotional health. Improving your overall health and wellbeing through self-care, whether that is a gentle walk, a coffee with a friend or a relaxing bath by yourself, can help to improve symptoms of postpartum depression and empower you in your parenting journey.Implementing self-care into your everyday life is essential for both parents to recover, reduces stress and anxiety, help with bonding and being present with your baby and can give you an improved sense of control and empowerment.
Remember, seeking help from a healthcare professional is the best option if you or your partner think that you might be developing postpartum depression. Seeking help for postpartum depression is a sign of strength and is never a sign of weakness.
Finally, taking time out for yourself is not selfish, you can’t pour from an empty cup so Mama’s fill your cup so that you can continue to fill the cups of your little people.
Written By Lauren Brenton
Endorsed Midwife and Founder of One Mama Midwife Pty Ltd
I’m Loz and I’m an Endorsed Midwife who runs Antenatal Classes in the Sutherland Shire. I have completed a Bachelor of Midwifery and a Master of Midwifery. My favourite area is in the labour ward, this is where you can find me most days. One Mama Midwife came about in the height of Covid in 2020, when so many women were missing out on the chance to have antenatal education. Aimed at empowering you with the tools you require to have the pregnancy, birth and postpartum journey that you want to have, with advice and recommendations you can trust.