How I'm Avoiding Postpartum Depression With Baby #3
Looking back on it, the fact that I suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of my first child is not a total surprise to me. I had sort of the perfect storm of circumstances and indicators.
I had a tough physical recovery after birth,
I was sleep deprived like whoah,
I had a baby who cried a lot and was generally unhappy,
I didn’t have any family in town,
I didn’t have many friends with babies,
I had previous experiences with depression-like symptoms, and to top it all off
It was after returning to work, in my fourth month of being a new mom, that I reached out for help and was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
I should have seen it coming. I should have started putting together the pieces and the indicators sooner. But when you’re in it, you question everything. You question what’s normal. You question whether your feelings are strong enough, deep enough or sad enough to truly be categorized as a diagnosable condition. You keep thinking this will pass. It has to.
Could I have prevented the postpartum depression if I’d been more aware of the signs? I’m not sure.
Do I regret not trying harder with my own remedies before seeking professional help and ultimately medication? Not at all.
I learned so much about myself, about my own stigmas around anti-depressants, and about the mental health process that have served me in my journey to maintain my mental health in the years since that diagnosis. That information is what helped me prepare for a second pregnancy and birth that turned out to not come with any signs of postpartum depression.
So as I sit here, pregnant with my third baby, thinking about the upcoming delivery, postpartum experience, and return to work, I’m comparing my two previous experiences. I’m taking all of the knowledge I have gained over the past 4 and a half years through 2 pregnancies and 2 births and I’m creating a toolkit, if you will, for baby number 3.
I realize and know first-hand that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are not confined to first-time moms. I know that for some moms, they only experience it with subsequent children. And so I want to be prepared. I want to have my checklist of the warning signs. I want to have my list of resources and providers. And I want to have my list of activities that make me feel better so that when I’m in a moment of sadness, or anxiety, or overwhelm, I don’t have to think about it. I can just pull out the right tactic from my toolkit and try it.
And if my feelings or my experience gets too big to handle, well I’ll have referrals and professionals who I can call on to help me more than I can help myself.
So in case you think you might be struggling with postpartum depression, or if you’re preparing for an upcoming birth or postpartum period, here’s what’s in my toolkit. Take what works for you and create your own. And ask for help when you need it.
Have a short list of recommended providers
If you’ve never worked with a counselor or therapist before, it would be a good idea to know who comes highly recommended in your area. Reach out to other moms that you know, to your doula or members of the birth community, or to your local postpartum depression/anxiety support group. Explain that you want to be prepared should you need someone and you don’t want to be scrambling. If you want to take it a step further, you could always reach out to talk to a few of them to see who might be a good fit for you. Some counselors will do meet-and-greet type appointments if you ask. And if you already have a provider that you see or have seen in the past, during your pregnancy would be a good time to re-establish care so you’re not starting from scratch when you need him or her.
Have a diet/nutrition plan
Knowing the direct and significant impact that my diet has on my mood has been game-changing in how I handle periods of feeling sad and low. I have personally seen a nutritionist and had a food sensitivities panel done, so if that interests you, I can’t recommend it enough. But if that extra step isn’t in the cards, that’s fine too. There’s a ton of research out there that can help you better understand the link between what you eat and how you feel. In general, I know that sugars and gluten are big contributors for me as is dairy and eggs to a certain extent. So as I think about preparing for that postpartum period with baby number 3, I’m going to be creating a list of go-to meals and snacks and doing as much prep and freezing as I have the energy for.
Stock up on supplements
I’m not a doctor and can’t make specific recommendations for you, but I know for me, there are certain supplements that I take that help keep me feeling energetic (as much as they can) and mentally stable. While my prenatal vitamin has replaced many of these during pregnancy, I will be checking my supply of supplements like Omega 3 fish oil, iron, vitamin B, vitamin D, and probiotics so that I can get back on my regimen after giving birth while my body and my emotions heal from that experience.
Decide on your non-negotiables
Especially in the early days of having a newborn, certain daily tasks just feel impossible. Things, like taking a shower, getting a full night’s sleep, exercising, or catching up with friends, are things that you maybe, sometimes get to do. For me, I know that I feel terrible and dead to the world until I’ve had a shower. So yes, it might mean sacrificing a few extra minutes of sleep, or letting my baby cry for 5 minutes while I rinse off, but to me that one is non-negotiable. Water, drinking lots of it, is another one. I have to have 8 glasses minimum or I will melt into a shell of myself and feel terrible. That’s another non-negotiable for me. The last one, which will be hard given that my maternity leave will be in the dead of winter in Ohio, is getting outside for a few deep breaths of fresh air. A walk would be even better. These things - shower, water, and fresh air - will go on a list or a post-it where I can see them every day and be reminded that at a minimum, I need to do these things for my sanity and for my mental health.
Create a list of feel-good activities
As you start to settle into your groove, you may find yourself getting better and better at doing more for yourself. Whether that’s because you have help at home or because you’re more confident at caring for baby or bringing baby along with you. However, you get there, it’s good to have a list of things to remind yourself what you enjoy and what makes you feel good. So on those days when you’re feeling down or in a funk and you just can’t figure out why you can take your mind off of dwelling on those feelings and do something that feels good and distracts you. My list includes knitting, reading, writing, going to a coffee shop, sitting with a friend, and moving my body (dancing, walking, stretching, etc.). And if I ever get to a breaking point where I just feel so overwhelmed with emotions, I will ask for help and I will do what I need to to take a few minutes for one of these activities. It’s critical and it’s important. Just like healing my body, I need to heal my mental health as well and these things are my medicine.
Preparation Only Takes You So Far
Even though I do like to be in control, I’m not so naive as to think that I can control whether or not I experience postpartum depression again. I hope you know that for yourself too. But it helps ease my anxiety a bit to know that I am prepared. That I understand the signs and symptoms, that I can still take care of myself, or tell someone else how to take care of me, and that I can reach out for help when I need it.