By Jennifer Hafele, M.Ed., IBCLC
Despite knowing the warning signs, I didn’t see them in myself. When my third baby was born, my partner was struggling with a longer-term physical illness, and I was “doing what I had to do” to hold it all together and manage life with three young kids. It wasn’t until my baby was nine months old that I realized how much I had been struggling mentally and emotionally. Clues: lack of motivation, near-constant feelings of overwhelm and worry, and not caring for myself adequately.
Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are common in parents of babies. In fact, according to Postpartum Support International (PSI), 1 in 7 moms and 1 in 10 dads suffer from postpartum depression. Symptoms of perinatal mood disorders can appear any time during pregnancy and/or the first 12 months after childbirth. They can include sadness, depression, anxiety, irritability, problems eating or sleeping (too much or too little), feeling out of control, or even worry that you might hurt yourself or the baby (http://www.postpartum.net). If you are feeling “out of sorts” for longer than a few days, it may be time to get help.
The good news is that you can take proactive steps to address mood disorders related to pregnancy and early parenthood.
1. Take good care of yourself. Eat plenty of nutritious calories, get enough sleep and exercise, and maintain friendships. Carve out time to go for a walk, read a book, or do something else enjoyable.
2. Enlist a team. Invite partners, friends, and/or family to watch for warning signs, and grant them permission to share concerns with you. Even better, schedule weekly or bi-weekly “check-ins” with your teammate(s) to keep communication lines open.
3. Get support. Regular support groups are a great way to stay healthy and connected. You can find in-person and online groups. Local possibilities include Family Resource Centers, La Leche League of Eau Claire, Mama Bear Lactation Care, and area clinics.
4. When in doubt, check it out. If you or your support network sense something is off, follow those instincts and reach out for help. Please don’t wait. Contact your doctor/midwife, pediatrician, counselor/therapist, or other trusted health professional. The PSI Helpline is another great starting point: 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD).
Once I realized how much I was struggling, I reached out to my midwife. I started regular therapy sessions, as well as an anti-depressant and consistent exercise, which together helped me get beyond these concerns. Some mental health medications safe during lactation—just ask your provider. My only regret is that it took so long for me to recognize the signs in myself and act on them!
I can’t go back in time and change those first nine months with my youngest son. But if you relate, you can decide for your story to look different! Please ask for and accept help. Doing so will not only benefit you but also your family. I am so glad that I found help, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same.
Jennifer is active in the Chippewa Valley birth and postpartum care community. She provides professional lactation support through her private practice, Mama Bear Lactation Care. Offering a free support group is a cornerstone of her practice. She also loves co-teaching “Confident Birth & Beyond,” an independent childbirth and postpartum education series. Connect with Jennifer on Facebook or at MamaBearLactationCare.com.