“Be patient with yourself, nothing in nature blooms all year.” -unknown
There was a night that I let him cry. I let him cry for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually an hour. It was the longest hour of my life as I sat outside his room and cried with him. I knew he was safer in his crib than with me. I was beyond the point of exhaustion. It had been months since I slept more than 2-3 hours at at time and I had hit the end of the road. It took an incredible amount of strength to sit there and just pray for him while feeling like the worst mother ever in the world of mothers. Ironic enough this would not be the last time I ever felt this way, but now I’ve come to expect these feelings of mom guilt and know how to wrangle them in a bit better than I used to. Being a first time mom is the most confusing time of a woman’s life, or at least it was for me.
Swaddle the baby, but not too tight. Feed the baby every two hours, unless they didn’t get a good feed, then feed them on demand when you think they are hungry. Hold the baby, but not too much other wise they will never want to be put down. Always burp the baby, but not too hard. Rock the baby, but not too fast or too slow because you might fall asleep with them. NEVER sleep with the baby, unless you are so tired and that is the only way you will get sleep. Don’t put the baby in his crib too soon, he might feel abandoned, but don’t do it too late other wise he will never want to sleep alone. Breastfeed as long as you can, but not too long or people will judge you. Its a world of contradictories and first time moms are left to decipher what it all means.
The pressure was too much for me and there were definite feelings of “I can’t do this,” “maybe I was not cut out for this,” and lots of “I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this?” Looking back now with some distance from it all I think it is safe to say I struggled with some form of Post Partum Depression. In order to help other women, like myself, I wanted to bring more light to this topic to make sure the one mom reading this who has asked herself these same questions knows she is NOT ALONE. In fact, she is in very good company. (To read more of my baby blue struggles click here)
I was able to once again team up with a medical professional from Kaiser Permanente to really get to the core of Post Partum Depression, or PPD. Dr. Natasha Namdari, MD – psychiatrist, who has been working with Kaiser after finishing her residency at Duke University, was very insightful about the issue and together we are hoping to encourage an open conversation for other women.
Here are the questions that I was able to discuss with Dr. Namdari, I hope the more people become educated about PPD the more we can prevent deaths/suicides caused by this disease.Post Partum being revealed with the help of a real medical professional from @KPSCALnews… Click To Tweet
What are the signs of Post Partum Depression?
The less severe cases of PPD can often be referred to as the “Baby Blues.” Feeling overwhelmed, extreme sadness, exhaustion. Additional signs could be, but are not limited to, having a difficult time accomplishing regular daily activities. For instance; not being able to get out of the house, getting dressed or taking a shower. They may worry about everything and question whether they can really be a good mom. This may lead to struggling with anxiety. These feelings can make it difficult to bond with the baby and can cause trouble sleeping even when the baby is sleeping. Another possible warning sign is isolation or not communicating with anyone. And of course the biggest red flag is wanting to hurt yourself or the baby.
Are some moms at a higher risk?
Yes, anyone who has struggled with any kind of depression before or has had PPD before is more likely to struggle with it. Women who have a family history of depression are also at a higher risk. Dr. Namdari also says there is a slightly higher chance if you have had severe PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
What does it really mean to struggle with Post Partum Depression?
For most that struggle with PPD it means that they are not able to enjoy things, even the happy moments because they are so overwhelmed. They do not feel like they are able to function or maintain day to day activities. It might feel like they just can’t handle life and are miserable with overwhelming worry and lack of joy.
Would you say it is more of a mental health issue? Or does it affect you physically as well?
Dr. Namdari says the distinction between the two is very slight. Physical symptoms might include; achy, lethargic, fatigued, etc…And although it is normal to feel fatigue because you are not getting much sleep, it goes beyond that. It is both mentally and physically exhausting, making this more than just a mental health issue.
Why does it happen? Is there a science behind it?
Dr. Namdari says that often times the rapid drop in estrogen/hormones levels after birth can be a cause of PPD. Again, women who are genetically predisposed and the stress of having a baby could all be causes.
If you start to see the signs in someone, what can you do? How can you help?
First, just talk to them. Let them know that they are not alone and this is VERY COMMON. The thing I realized very early on in motherhood is that it is so nice to know that whatever you are going through there is someone else that has gone through it too, and in most cases, lots of times. Try to encourage them to seek professional help and reassure them that it comes with no stigma or intimidation. Come up with a plan to help create an emotionally and physically healthy mom, which is not just important for them, but for the baby too. It is so important for healthy bonding between mom and baby to take place, it is an actual biochemical reaction. Reiterate that their feelings of guilt or lack of self worth have been experienced by so many other moms out there.
Is it preventable?
No, unfortunately, it is not preventable, especially if you are pre-disposed to PPD. But there ARE steps you can take BEFORE birth and after to help promote a more balanced life style. Dr. Namdari suggests setting up a point person before giving birth, whether it is your spouse, sister or friend, make sure there is someone that is consistently checking up on you to see how you are doing. And from my experience, someone that can check up on you in person, not just over the phone, is more ideal. I know having family far away was very difficult for me, especially when my husband works 48 hours at a time. I wish I had set up a friend that would have been able to come over almost once a week to check in on me, to get me out of the house, make sure I had showered and forced me to leave the laundry alone and just take a nap. You need a person who can help you do this!
Also, some of my other suggestions are to set up a meal train so that other people are bringing you food at least once a week for the first few months, which is one less thing you have to do. There is a site called TakeThemAMeal.com where people can sign up to bring you food and even organizes what types of food you prefer and time of delivery. Or you can have them order through a company like Freshly where the meals come to you already cooked, all you have to do is zap it in the microwave. I also recommend letting other people help you. This was one of my biggest downfalls. I never really reached out for help. If someone came to visit the baby I never asked them to do anything to help me, in fact it just stressed me out more that I had a visitor coming and felt the need to pull it together for a few hours. It is hard to be vulnerable, but try it sometime. If a friend wants to come and see the baby ask them if they don’t mind picking up the carton of milk you forgot at the store. Or maybe ask if they could help fold some really cute, tiny clothes. If they are a true friend they would be more than happy to help you!
What can you do if you start to see the signs in yourself?
First step is reaching out and talking to someone. Your spouse, friend, mother, sister, neighbor, anyone. Second step is to get assessed by a medical professional; either an O.B. or a psychologist. You can also try to do little things like getting dressed, going for a walk, finding a mom support group, going out with a friend without the baby. I also suggest doing something you used to enjoy before the baby came but don’t seem to have time to do it now. Excercising made a big difference for me, once I was able to work out and start to feel better about my Post Partum body things began to change mentally and physically for me.
How is it cured? What are the options once diagnosed?
Most often times PPD patients will be prescribed some sort of medication that will increase serotonin and level out hormones. Medications like Prozac and Zoloft are the most common anti-depressants, Zoloft is more compatible with breastfeeding than Prozac. Both of these options; the pros and cons would need to be discussed with a doctor. In some cases you might also be prescribed something to help you sleep like Ambien, if you are finding it difficult to sleep even while the baby is sleeping. Ambien is also compatible with breast feeding.
We often hear stories of moms who end up taking their own lives, what could we say right now to a mom who is struggling with these feelings right now?
You are not alone. You are loved and you can find joy again. It is not hopeless, you are not a lost cause or a bad mom for having these feelings. Please reach out to anyone (even me), tell them you need to talk and I promise you won’t regret it.
Is there anything else we should know or bring light to this topic?
Dr. Namdari suggests making sure you and your spouse are getting educated BEFORE birth. If you have a point person who does regular checks then you have a better chance at catching PPD before it becomes too serious. Do not try to do this on your own. They say it takes a village…and I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t always feel like I had a village which led to my baby blues some days, but there were always a couple friends I could call on if I knew I was desperate. Desperation does not have to lead to a lonely, isolated road, it can direct you to confiding in your spouse or friend, which is the glimmer of guidance that is needed to begin the healing process.
***This post was sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, but all opinions are my own.***