I'm going to get super vulnerable with you all for a few minutes. Is that okay? I'm going to talk about what can happen when Postpartum Depression meets Seasonal Depression (or Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Let me be straight up with you. Neither one of these disorders are pretty, fun, glamorous or anything you would wish on your worst enemy. When you combine the two, you get hell. As a Postpartum Doula in Omaha (where we experience long and dreary winters), I've gotten to see how this affects my own clients. As a mom of two, I've experienced first hand, the crippling hold of Postpartum Mood Disorders.
Having a baby can be a whirlwind of an experience for a new or "seasoned" mom. It can be the most exciting thing in your life, and the most terrifying, all in one moment. The first breath, poop, grimace, snort, shiver, cry, etc, can be 10 emotions all mixed into one. As new moms, we worry. It's just what we do. "Is that normal?" "Should he be breathing like that?" "Is that poop the right color?" "Is the car seat installed properly?" I could go on and on. Worrying and staying vigilant keeps babies alive. It helps us learn. It allows us to get to know our babies normal patterns and reactions so that over time, we worry less and less and grow more confident in our mothering abilities.
For some mothers, though, anxiety, sadness, feelings of inadequacy, regret, concern, paranoia, fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of interest in bonding, trouble bonding to begin with, etc, can last far past the scope of a "normal" timeframe.
During pregnancy, your body creates an organ called the placenta. The placenta is your baby's lifeline for 9 months. This placenta is also packed full of hormones that, immediately after birth, will leave your body at a rapid pace. Within 24 hours, your hormone levels will plummet. This, my friend...can cause some...things.
I remember when my first baby was less than 24 hours old. I'd say maybe 12 hours old- tops.
I had just barely taken a real shower. It may have even been a sitz bath. You know, the kind that is fast enough to wash off my body from whatever the heck was on it, but not so long that I would miss him doing something amazing. To a first time mom, a yawn is amazing. I slowly hobbled over to my husband who was next to him, because I had a pillow sized pad shoved into my ogre sized maternity underwear. (Side note: those underwear are absolutely stinking amazing and you should take every pair that enters your recovery room, home with you). Out of nowhere, I began to bawl. The ugly, uncontrollable, Kim Kardashian losing her earrings in the ocean, kind of cry. I said. " I did it. We made it. We made him. I'm so tired. Do you think we can do it?" All...in the same breath. It hit me. I had a baby. I wasn't pregnant anymore. It was so...weird. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. It would continue to hit me for about a week until the sleep deprivation soon took over and I accepted my new reality. That rollercoaster of emotions that I described is VERY normal. It's referred to as "the baby blues". This is due to that sudden hormonal shift from the placenta being delivered and outside of your body.
For many women though, this emotional rollercoaster lasts longer than what is considered normal by medical professionals. The normal time frame to experience the baby blues is a maximum of 2 weeks after birth. If it lasts longer or becomes hard to deal with, you may be experiencing a Postpartum Mood Disorder such as Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. No mother is exempt from the possibility of experiencing these disorders.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Postpartum Depression signs and symptoms can include but are not limited to:
Depressed mood or severe mood swings
Difficulty bonding with your baby
Withdrawing from family and friends
Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Intense irritability and anger
Fear that you're not a good mother
Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
Severe anxiety and panic attacks
Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Those are some pretty heavy things to experience. Now get this. Here are the signs and symptoms for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Having low energy
Having problems with sleeping
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Can you see a few of the same symptoms? Some mothers who give birth in Fall or Winter, assume they are suffering simply because of the weather change. If you are experiencing any or multiple of these symptoms combined, it is worth looking into. For you, your baby and the people who love you.
As Winter quickly approaches and the skies turn darker sooner each day, your body's natural circadian rhythm and Vitamin D levels change. This can contribute to SAD symptoms and signs.
Talk to your Doctor or Midwife about ways to boost your Vitamin D levels and improve your sleep cycles. Food is a great place to start. Eat whole foods that fuel your body, instead of draining it. Avoid processed foods, heavy carbs and sugar.
Many things can contribute to Postpartum mood disorders but there is no guaranteed way to prevent or treat it. Every woman is different. Postpartum mood disorders are sneaky and can feel like they hit you overnight. Here are some ways to help prevent Postpartum Mood Disorders or recognize the signs sooner:
1) Check in with yourself. Journal about your day and ask yourself if you are doing better or worse.
We all have bad days, but the general trend should be "better".
2) Talk about it. Talk about your birth. Your struggles. Your joys. Just talk. To whomever you feel is the most supportive (unbiased and non judgemental) and the best listener.
3) Eat well. Food is medicine. It is fuel. Put things in your body that will support your body's recovery from birth. By all means indulge in cravings. No one said this needs to be misery. For crying out loud you just had a baby- TREAT YOURSELF. However, just make sure you are putting more good in than bad. Need help with this? Check this out!
4) Lower your standards. For all of the "type A" mamas out there, this might mean letting your Mother-In-Law fold towels "wrong". It may mean your older kids eat PB&J for three nights straight. But can I tell you something? It's going to be okay. I promise.
5) Hire a Postpartum Doula. A Postpartum Doula is a trained professional at taking care of a mother who has recently given birth and her newborn. Your Doula will become a rock for you. Breastfeeding questions? Safe sleep questions? Need a shower or a minute to think about something other than tracking wet and dirty diapers? Your Postpartum Doula will be the person at your side, through it all. When everyone else is concerned about the baby, I am concerned about YOU. How are you doing? Have you eaten? Have you cried? Have you had a minute to yourself to breathe? Are you having doubts? Is the laundry piling up? Do you need a meal cooked?
THIS is the role of a Postpartum Doula.
I have been a Doula in Omaha and the surrounding areas for almost 3 years. I am a Birth and Postpartum Doula, as well as a Certified Lactation Counselor. I own The Omaha Baby Nest. If you are local to the Omaha and surrounding areas, I'd love to chat.
6) Lastly, talk to a Mental Health Professional and/or your Healthcare Provider. Sometimes, suggestions 1-5 can drastically improve a mother's mental state. Other times, the big guns are needed. Your Healthcare Professional can guide you through medications that are right for you to improve your overall quality of life.
This topic can be quite heavy. If you have never experienced these disorders, you probably know someone who has. I'm on a mission to make this society a better place for Birth & Postpartum. With your help, that can trickle to more places than I could ever imagine on my own. If you found this to be helpful information, give this blog a share! For more information on Postpartum Doula services, visit TheOmahaBabyNest.com