Having a baby can make you feel like an emotional train wreck. One minute you’re overjoyed and in love with your little one, and the next you’re breaking down in tears.
It’s normal to feel sad, worried and anxious, and utterly exhausted—it’s what’s known as the “baby blues.” But if you continue to feel this way for more than two or three weeks, you might have postpartum depression, a disorder which affects one in seven moms, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
All women can have postpartum depression, but women who have a history of anxiety or depression during pregnancy or at some point in their lives are more at risk. If you’re a perfectionist, under stress or don’t have enough support from your partner or other people in your life, it’s more likely that you could have it as well.
If you think you have postpartum depression, it’s best to talk to a professional who can make an accurate diagnosis and can suggest medication and therapy. There are also things you can do now to feel better. Here are 10.
1. Trust your instincts
If you feel like something’s not right, it probably isn’t. So take your feelings seriously, and let someone know how you feel immediately. “Finding the right place where you can be validated and supported is the very first step,” said Karen Kleiman, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of The Postpartum Stress Center.
Your hormones are in full force during the third trimester, and after giving birth, your body is working to get them back to normal. “One of the ways your body secretes hormones is through tears,” said Dr. Kimberley Zittel, associate professor at SUNY Buffalo and author of Postpartum Mood Disorders: A Guide for Medical, Mental Health and Other Support Providers. “So it’s actually good to cry, because it’s your body’s natural way to get out your hormones,” she said.
3. Breastfeed but…
…Only if you can or want to. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, women who breastfeed for two or four months were less likely to have the disorder. Yet breastfeeding can also make postpartum depression worse if you’re unable to do it or don’t want to, according to Zittel, who also suffered from the disorder.
4. Get enough sleep
With a new baby, sleeping for a solid block of time may sound like a dream, but it’s vital. Get your partner or another family member to pitch in at least every 2 days so you can get your zzz’s. If that’s not doable, try to relax when your baby naps.
5. Re-evaluate your time
“Realize that your 100 percent will need to be divided,” said Zittel, who added it’s important to decide how you will divvy up your time between work, your child, and all of your other responsibilities. Be realistic about how much you can actually take on, and talk with your partner about the expectations you both have.
6. Find friends
Join a local mom’s group for support, arrange a play date or call a family member or friend to chat when you’re feeling down. “Surround yourself with people who love you and not people who agitate you,” Kleiman said.
7. Eat healthy foods
Eating a balanced diet with food that will give you energy and avoiding alcohol and caffeine will help to keep you on an even keel.
It’s hard to move when you’re feeling blue, but the endorphin boost you get from a workout has been shown to ease depression, so head to the gym or go for a walk with your baby.
9. Lean on your partner
Confiding in your spouse about how you’re feeling and what you need can be a great source of support and can even improve your relationship.
10. Learn or get a massage
“One of the main side effects that can occur when you have postpartum depression is that you wind up not tuning into your baby’s cries,” Zittel said. The result? Your baby cries more, you feel more depressed, and the two of you don’t bond as well. Infant massage has been shown to help and some practitioners even offer a massage package for both mom and baby.
Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.