There’s nothing more life-changing than being a new mom. On the bright side, it’s a splendid time to bond with your little bundle of joy. But the “life-changing” part doesn’t mean it’ll always be perfect Instagram moments.
Are you a new mom experiencing symptoms consistent with anxiety or post-partum depression (PPD)? For example, maybe you’re experiencing mood swings, sadness, irritability and fatigue. You’re not alone.
According to Statistics Canada, nearly one quarter of Canadian moms report feeling this way. And at a time when you’re expected to be over-the-moon with happiness, that anxiety can weigh even heavier. That’s why it’s important for new moms to take steps to help them maintain their mental health and cope after childbirth. Here are some ways to get started:
1. Set small goals you can actually achieve.
Some babies sleep a lot, and often new moms believe they should use that time productively. If you’re anticipating a return to work, then those hours may seem like the last chance you’ll have to organize your house, write thank you notes and stockpile meals. But try to resist the urge to take on large tasks with the limited energy you have. Instead, set manageable “microgoals”—which can be as small as taking a shower and writing one note a day. Those accomplishments will help you feel successful, rather than overwhelmed, which is an important way to boost your spirits.
2. Maintain healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercise.
Recent research reveals that parents lose an average of six months of sleep during a baby’s first 24 months. That’s probably no surprise to new parents. Sleep deprivation can often mimic some of the signs of PPD, including feeling irritable or overwhelmed. The good news is that a moderate exercise program (if approved by your physician) may improve your mental health. How? It can help reduce the risk of depression and nurture positive feelings, while also contributing to better sleep. Look into low-impact options like yoga, weights or walking to engage both your body and mind positively. You can do these exercises alone, with a buddy or in a class.
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You can then round out these healthy habits by eating nutritiously. After all, there’s no time like the present to start being a good role model for your child. But know that one of the symptoms of postpartum depression is changes in weight or appetite. This includes gaining or losing significant amounts. Staying in tune with your body can help you understand the potential signs of PPD.
3. Find a support group for moms.
There are as many different kinds of support organizations as there are moms. There are groups that get together to walk. Others that sing with their babies. And many that are there just to talk. Focus on locating a club that’s positive, rather than competitive. You might need to try a few to find the one that’s right for you. If you don’t know any other new parents, check around by:
- asking friends and family,
- calling a local gym or community centre,
- talking to your doctor or hospital,
- consulting your HR department for a working parent group or
- checking out the Postpartum Support International (PSI) support group finder for Canada.
Some moms only need support for the first few months of adjustment. Others may want to find groups to bond with throughout their children’s various ages and stages.
4. Ask for help.
It’s can be hard to accept assistance, but it’s a vital part of successfully tackling all the obligations that come your way as a new parent. Look to your partner, a family member, friend or neighbour and voice a specific request. It could be for a meal, a ride to the grocery store or just someone to hold the baby while you have some “me” time. The great news is that most people want to help. They just don’t know how. Giving them a specific task allows them to feel useful, too.
5. Ease back into work after maternity leave.
Some moms-to-be create a plan before they leave. But you’re a different person now than you were a few months ago. So you may need to modify the expectations. For example, weekly phone meetings sounded doable before you left work. But now you realize that they interfere with your baby’s naptime (which hopefully has become your naptime, too). Keep the lines of communication open and reach out to the Human Resources department if needed. They can also help you access benefits for your growing family.
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6. Stay in touch with your emotions—and your doctor.
For many new moms, these feelings of anxiety become more deep-seated than the traditional “baby blues.” So it’s important to recognize early signs of postpartum depression. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) lists the following as some symptoms of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety:
- depressed mood,
- loss of interest in things that would otherwise bring pleasure (including your baby),
- excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness,
- diminished concentration or ability to think clearly and
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Communicate openly with your doctor, who can help you get the assistance you need. Your doctor may advise you to talk to a therapist for additional help.
PPD is a treatable condition. The faster you get it under control, the faster you can get back to the most important work at hand—being the best mom you can to your new baby.