Reducing the Risk of Postpartum Depression

It is common for women to experience a period of distress as they adjust physically, emotionally, and practically in the aftermath of labor and delivery, while also caring for their newborn child.

This period of distress often includes significant mood swings of frustration, irritability, sadness, weepiness, exhaustion, anxiety, preoccupation with the health of the infant, and alertness regarding their infant’s well-being as they get to know their child. Although such symptoms are common in the first two weeks postpartum, they begin to resolve as the body recovers and women adapt to their new life. A smaller proportion of women – approximately 10 to 20 percent – go on to develop postpartum depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Each of these mental health difficulties are marked by mood and/ or anxiety symptoms that are persistent, severe, and prolonged, and the symptoms impact the woman’s ability to carry out day to day tasks. Although postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD can affect any woman, women with a history of mental health struggles, poor emotional or practical support, lack of consistent sleep, and poor self-care practices are at a greater risk.

Here are some strategies you can use to either reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression, anxiety and/or OCD, or to promote recovery if you are already suffering:

  • Nap when your child sleeps. It is essential to your functioning that you make up for lost sleep during the night. This is the most important strategy on this list.
  • Allow others to pitch in around the home so that you can get the sleep you deserve. Do not wait for others to help, ask for help. This will help reduce stress and/ or guilt regarding productivity, which for many women limits their willingness to nap.
  • Make your expectations realistic and flexible. Caring for a newborn means you will have less control over your day-to-day life, since your plans will have to accommodate your child’s changing needs and routines.
  • Be kind to yourself and create moments of self-preservation. It is essential that you take time to relax and engage in some form of self-care daily. Whatever activity you choose, it should be at least 15 minutes a day of something that will make you feel happy and more relaxed.
  • Engage in some mild to moderate exercise daily.
  • Eat regularly and well, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Don’t expect to have the perfect child. Your baby will not follow developmental expectations exactly, nor will they follow schedules.
  • Don’t expect to be a perfect parent. You cannot know everything and do everything right.
  • Join a support group for new moms.
  • Join a play group for moms and their babies.
  • Remind yourself that you have many special and exciting moments waiting in your future. The challenges of adjusting to your new role will lessen; you will find a routine, you will learn to be more adaptable, your body will heal, and you will have time to do groceries and tidy your home.

If you find yourself with symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety, or OCD, follow the above strategies, and consider the following, as well:

  • Speak to your family physician or obstetrician about the risks and benefits of medications.
  • Find a therapist. For postpartum anxiety and OCD, be sure that you seek out cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Have your partner read The Postpartum Husband by Karen Kleiman.
  • Be realistic in your expectations of recovery, it will take time.

Postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD do not usually go away on their own – intervention and treatment are needed. Don’t let your symptoms prevent you from enjoying your child and your new role.