Beyond the Baby Blues: 6 Evidence-Based Strategies to Support Emotional Health After Baby is Born
“Baby Blues” impacts an estimated 70-80% of new mothers and is characterized by mood swings, tearfulness, and feelings of overwhelm. However, they are not pervasive or severe. In the immediate postpartum time, the transient low generally follows the normal ‘high’ and it passes within a matter of days. These symptoms resolve within two weeks of giving birth.
When should you seek professional help for the “baby blues?”
But what if symptoms are more significant or severe or last longer- when should you seek professional support?
- If mood changes persist
- You have appetite changes
- You find it difficult to sleep when baby sleeps
- You can’t stop worrying about your baby
- You have disturbing or stressful thoughts
- You feel anxious, hopeless or have other concerns about your mood
Know when you’re at risk for perinatal mood disorders
Even in the best of circumstances, a new baby introduces a major transition for your family. This transition can be especially difficult if you’re at risk for perinatal mood disorders. These risk factors include:
- A personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or mental illness
- Additional stressors (finances, moving, relationship challenges, etc.)
- Loss of a parent or loved one
- A history of infertility or pregnancy loss
- A difficult delivery
- A newborn who is ill, medically fragile or high needs.
Evidence-Based Strategies for Coping With the Baby Blues
Here are 6 evidence-based strategies to support wellbeing for any new mother. The following strategies are not substitutes for professional support but they have shown to help improve mood.
Inflammation and pain reduce tolerance to stress and affect mood in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s related to postpartum discomforts, breastfeeding, or pain unrelated to childbirth and the postpartum period, getting support for pain management, including the use of anti-inflammatories, can help. Talk with your doctor/midwife if you have questions about medication you have been prescribed. If breastfeeding is painful get an evaluation from a lactation specialistas soon as possible to quickly resolve any issues.
Diet and Wellness
Carbohydrates and healthy fats are especially important for mood. Include a diverse and eat regular and frequent meals. Lack of appetite is associated with some mood disorders and eating disorders can also be activated. Seek support if you notice appetite changes that concern you.
There are several nutritional deficiencies associated with mood disorders that are common in postpartum women. Ask your provider about screening or supplementation for the following:
- Omega 3s
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
Exercise, meditation, massage and relaxation techniques can be complements to routine care and are proven to help improve mood. Going out for regular walks—even just around the block—and rhythmic exercise such as jogging or bicycling for 30 minutes are beneficial. However, any exercise should be in tune with the mother’s recovery. No strenuous exercise should be encouraged in the first few weeks until the body has a chance to rebound.
One of the benefits of breastfeeding is its mood boosting effects. There is evidence that breastfeeding may protect against postpartum depression and assist in a swifter recovery from symptoms. It’s also possible that breastfeeding challenges can be stressful to the body and the mind. Connect with a lactation specialist as soon as possible to quickly resolve any issues.
While we recognize that sleep interruption is inevitable with a new baby, optimizing restorative sleep contributes a profound boost to the brain and to mood. The first day after giving birth it’s normal to be very wakeful even though the body is quite fatigued. If this continues, get support by the second day. Prolonged sleep deprivation at this point can put unnecessary strain on the brain chemistry.
Resting, napping or sleeping during the daytime is helpful for many new parents. If you struggle with being able to nap or rest during the day, explore ways to rest or slow down – do less whenever possible, especially during the first few weeks.
Be thoughtful about how you spend your evenings. Recognize that Cortisol (fight or flight) hormones can easily climb at night, which can make it difficult to sleep even when baby is sleeping. Avoid tasks such as paying bills, checking work emails, discussing difficult issues—anything that gets the mind racing.
Discuss ways to stay in the ‘sleep zone’ during night feedings. Consider the following:
- finding a comfortable position
- having your baby close to your bed in a co-sleeper, side car or bassinet
- avoiding light from your phone, TV or computer
- keep overhead/lamps low or off
- pumping so that someone else can feed your baby while you sleep
- caffeine intake during the day, afternoon or evening
Also consider overnight doula care for additional support. Your doula will have many strategies for improving sleep, even for exclusively breastfeeding mothers.
Insomnia and difficulty sleeping when baby is sleeping is a symptom of postpartum mood disorders. Be sure to discuss this with your providers.
Social Support – Your Village
Getting help from family, friends, and professional postpartum doulas reduces the risk of mood disorders. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that abrupt withdrawal of support can be emotionally challenging, for example when family members who have come to stay in those early weeks return home. Plan to have a reliable support network for the first months and consider which roles or tasks will be most helpful to you. Check out this blog to learn more about what this picture of support might look like.
In our own surveys, mothers reported improved emotional wellbeing, greater confidence, and overall improved outcomes when receiving postpartum doula support.
Isolation and lack of social support puts women at risk for mood disorders. Support groups and parent groups can provide many benefits including the opportunity to share and listen to other parents, to grow your circle of support, and the proven power of healing in a community.
Mental Health Resources
Find a therapist who is knowledgeable about perinatal mood disorders and the childbearing year. This is a time of huge transition for any family, and interpersonal or cognitive therapy can offer tools for managing the transition. Individual, couples or therapeutic groups are options to consider when working with a therapist. For some new parents, medication may be discussed or needed – the mental health professional will help navigate options with you.
To learn more about postpartum support in the Chicagoland area, or for local/national resources, call 888.506.0607 or schedule a one-on-one call.