Whether you are having your first baby or your fifth, many expectant parents worry about the early weeks and months after the baby’s arrival. And for good reason. Up to 80% of new parents experience baby blues, which are defined as a normal adjustment period in the first 2-3 weeks after birth that resolves without treatment. But 15-20% of new parents will have more serious issues with Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMDs), both depression and anxiety.
First and foremost, if you or someone you love is dealing with potential postpartum anxiety or depression, make sure to reach out for help immediately. In the Twin Cities, we have Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota which can connect folks with support including health care professionals when needed.
Explore ways to prevent or minimize postpartum mood disorders
1. Prepare for a positive birth! Giving birth is a transformative experience. In my experience, the #1 thing expectant parents can do to avoid birth trauma is to be a fully informed and educated consumers. As a doula, I support all types of birth and only you can decide what type of birth will be best for you. If you want a natural birth, hire a provider who does natural birth every day and hire a doula to support you. If you know you want or need a more medicalized birth you will still benefit from careful provider selection and doula support. When you know what your choices are and feel like you are in control of your birth, you are much more likely to have a positive experience! Consider an out-of-hospital childbirth class like Hypnobabies or any other class that will truly teach you about informed consent, informed refusal, and how to be a truly empowered consumer.
2. Prepare to breastfeed if that’s how you are choosing to feed your baby. It’s natural and normal but it doesn’t always go easily. Consider attending La Leche League meetings while still pregnant to learn from other mothers and see breastfeeding in real life! LLL Leaders offer free email and phone help so meeting the Leaders before the baby arrives makes it easier to call for help after the baby arrives. After birth lean heavily on your support team to get through any early challenges. Your birth doula can help, or she can recommend a lactation counselor or lactation consultant to help when things get more complicated. With the right support at the right time, you can get through early challenges. Also, consider reading a couple of breastfeeding books. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (published by LLL) and Breastfeeding Made Simple are two of my favorites.
3. Consider lying in. This is the practice of staying home, and mostly in your bed for the first 2-4 weeks of your baby’s life. It’s common in many other cultures and a powerful way for new parents to recover from childbirth. And, it helps tremendously with breastfeeding. When you spend the first two weeks or more in bed just snuggling with your baby and breastfeeding on demand, your milk supply will be healthier. When breastfeeding goes well, your mental health will benefit greatly. In order for this to work you need to have a supportive partner, family, and friends around you who will take care of all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. so you can focus on baby. Lean on them! Or if you don’t have family in town, hire a postpartum doula to come in and work for you in the early weeks. You will recover faster in the long run when you take it easy at first.
4. Take your Omega-3s! Read this handout to learn more.
5. Consider placenta encapsulation. This is the practice of having your placenta dried, powdered, and turned into capsules for consumption. While the scientific evidence is limited now (you can learn about what we do have here), the anecdotal evidence is powerful. You can read about my clients experiences here. Placenta capsules are not a magic cure-all but most expectant parents who consider this natural remedy decide that the potential benefits are worth it.
6. If you can’t encapsulate your placenta for any reason you can actually order sheep placenta on Amazon! Some providers recommend other options like deer placenta. Herbs are another option to consider! (See #7)
7. There are lots of other holistic ways to support yourself in the postpartum period. Consider working with an acupuncturist, Chinese Medicine provider, herbalist, naturopathic doctor, and/or chiropractor. And of course we should all have a therapist we work with and can call on when needed! If needed there are lots of medications that are safe to take while breastfeeding.
Having a new baby is a very intense experience. Life changes in unexpected ways that can be wonderful and also very challenging. Plan for the best and then make sure you have a great network of support established to help you through any rocky times. Most of all slow down, breathe, and try to enjoy the small moments of joy because while the days can be long with little ones at home, the years truly do fly by!