The fourth trimester, or he immediate postpartum period, is something a lot of new parents are never really prepared for. They hear birth stories, get parenting advice, and fill a dresser with cute new baby clothes, but how to cope with the demands of an infant when you’re sleep-deprived and healing from a birth is usually not a part of the conversation leading up to the birth of a baby.
This bothers me for a few reasons, but primarily because it persuades new moms to feel like they should be able to handle it all on their own without asking for help.
“No one really talks about it, so it must not be hard for most people. I must be weak, a bad mother, or doing something wrong because I’m really struggling.”
Family and friends are usually so excited for your new baby, congratulating you on a job well done, but aren’t paying much attention to how mom and dad are coping. It’s hard. It’s lonely. You may not feel like celebrating, and you may feel guilty for not feeling as excited as people think you should be.
If you haven’t yet heard it, let me be the first to say that you are doing beautifully. You are strong. You are a great mother. You are not alone.
POSTPARTUM MOOD DISORDERS
What are postpartum mood disorders? Mayo Clinic defines a mood disorder in this way: “If you have a mood disorder, your general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances and interferes with your ability to function.” Most people have, at very least, heard of postpartum depression, but many people aren’t sure of what exactly that looks like, or even that there are other postpartum mood disorders to be watchful of. There are a variety of other mood disorders associated with pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, including postpartum blues (the “baby blues”), postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis.
Common symptoms of postpartum mood disorders are: anger, irritability, guilt, anxiety, crying, restlessness, fatigue, mood swings, panic attacks, inability to concentrate, insomnia, and loss of interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy.
Some quick stats for you (found here and here):
- The baby blues, which is usually very temporary, affects up to 85% of new moms
- Postpartum depression affects around 15% of new moms
- Postpartum psychosis affects about 1 in 500 new moms
- About 10% of new moms struggle with postpartum anxiety
I THINK I NEED HELP, NOW WHAT?
If you suspect you or your spouse is dealing with a postpartum mood disorder, talking with your doctor or psychotherapist is a great start. Depending on your symptoms, and at the recommendation of a medical professional, you may consider medications to help alleviate the symptoms you’re experiencing. Sometimes therapy is enough to reduce symptoms to a manageable level, and sometimes a combination of therapy and medications is going to be the right choice for you. If you feel like you need help, talk with your care provider as soon as you can.
For me, personally, I’ve experienced postpartum depression and/or anxiety after the birth of each of my four children. I had friends and family around for each birth, but the pervasive sentiment of, “If there’s anything you need, just let me know. I’m happy to help!” was hard for me to handle. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know what help to ask for, and I certainly didn’t want people to think I couldn’t manage on my own. Most people do genuinely want to help, but it’s hard for them to take the step to initiate support.
Here are some things you can ask for help with, or can help other new moms with:
- Pick up a grocery order and put it away
- Start or put away some laundry
- Do the dishes or clean the kitchen
- Offer to take older children to play for a couple hours
- Run errands for her
- Pick up older children from school
- Keep an eye on the baby while mom naps or showers
- Take a meal or two (or a couple freezer meals) and disposable utensils
- Help care for pets
- Offer to come visit and chat with her
Above all, remember that asking for help does not make you weak, it doesn’t make you a bad mother, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of caring for yourself and your baby. You are doing your best, and that is enough.