4 Ways to Boost Your Postpartum Mental Health
Once the immediate excitement settles after giving birth, the steep learning curve that comes with taking care of your baby and embracing your new role as a parent can be overwhelming. You’re also likely still healing from the physical challenges of birth. It’s common for these postpartum changes to take a toll on your mental health - you’re not alone! Up to 75% of women experience “postpartum blues” in the first few weeks of parenthood, with symptoms including tearfulness, sadness, irritability, mood swings, and feeling overwhelmed. Often, these feelings fade as you become more confident in your abilities as a new mom, but if you’re in need of a mental health boost, here are some strategies you can incorporate into your day to keep you feeling your best.
Adding regular exercise into your routine is a no-brainer when it comes to improving physical and mental wellbeing. You may be wondering how you can possibly manage a workout routine while baby requires most of your attention. First step: mind your pelvic floor muscles! Make sure to get the okay from your doctor before adding exercise into your routine and consider having an assessment from a pelvic floor physiotherapist to treat or prevent any urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse that can be aggravated by exercise. Then, seek out activities that you and baby can do together, which can help with reducing the stress of finding a caregiver each time you want to get moving. Some ideas to get you started include:
- Simple stretching to reawaken your muscles and joints each morning.
- Taking a daily walk around the block with baby (or at the mall in the wintertime) gets you out of the house as you gradually increase your distance and pace.
- Find a mom and baby workout class in your area. Not only will you be guided through safe, effective exercises to develop your physical fitness from knowledgeable instructors, but you can also meet other moms who are going through the same challenges you are.
- Not into group fitness classes? Consider an online exercise program created by personal trainers with expertise specifically in safe postpartum activity. These allow you to download full exercise programs so you can fit in a workout wherever or whenever you have time (which can be nice because babies often have a mind of their own with regards to scheduling!). An added bonus is often an exclusive members-only online support group, providing you with a sense of community. There are so many great programs available online including: Healthy Habits, Happy Moms or Jessie Mundell’s To Pregnancy and Beyond programs.
Create a support system
Being at home with a new baby can be isolating. Getting to know other parents in your area who are going through the same thing as you can be reassuring, giving you the opportunity to discuss common frustrations and exciting developments. It may be difficult to make the first move when meeting new people, but many new moms have the same feelings you do and are just waiting for the opportunity to meet a new friend. If you’re nervous about meeting new people, try to think of a few conversation starters before you go so you’re not pressed for words on the spot.
- Try joining local parent groups on Facebook or Meetups.com and plan a get together at the mall or park.
- Attend drop in sessions at your local early years centre or family resource centre (see list under references).
- Go to story time at the library and get there a bit early to chat with other parents.
- If you breastfeed, consider attending a drop-in breastfeeding support group or La Leche League meetings.
Nourishing foods and food planning
Boosting your mood with food as a new parent means focusing on nutrient dense foods that require little to no preparation. Until you have more time and energy to devote to meal prep, here are some things to keep on hand that are easy to combine into healthy meals or snacks:
- Fruits and Veggies: Pre-cut and wash your produce in batches, enough for at least 3 days at a time. Think carrots, celery, bell pepper, cucumber, snap peas, broccoli, pineapple and berries. Uncut apples and bananas are also great options. Always have a box of pre-washed leafy greens to throw in a bowl for a quick salad.
- Easy protein sources: Stock up on nut butter, hummus, whole nuts and seeds. Stir fry a pan of black beans and lentils with onion and garlic. Hardboil 4-5 eggs at the beginning of the week to keep on hand so you can pop one for a quick protein source.
- Healthy fats: Buy and freeze salmon and rainbow trout, which are rich in omega-3s. At a pinch, having cans of salmon, light tuna, sardines or anchovies can be useful if you don’t have time to get out to buy fresh. Avocados, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are all great options to add into smoothies or salads.
- Grains: Rice crackers or whole grain crackers are good for dipping into your hummus or nut butter. Make a pot of quinoa or brown rice to last over a few meals.
- Dried soup mixes (for example from Bob’s Red Mill) can be very useful to keep on hand, often just requiring a few soup stock ingredients and simmering, making a large batch of hearty soup that lasts for days.
Make yourself a priority
Easier said than done, right? It can feel impossible to find downtime to do something just for you, but this is often the prescription you need to nourish yourself and to continue being present for your little one. Open the lines of communication with your partner, close friends and family members to let them know what you need to be the best mom you can be.
- Carve out a babymoon period. The first few weeks of baby's life are crucial bonding and recovery time. Postpone constant visiting and focus on only yourself and the baby with as minimal outside intrusion as possible.
- Plan ahead with your support network (or find a local babysitter) to have them watch baby while you take a relaxing Epsom salt bath.
- Schedule a tea time for yourself when baby is having tummy time or a nap. Even a 15-minute break can help you clear your head. Consider nourishing teas like chamomile and nettle or warming lemon ginger tea.
- Book some time for a massage or an acupuncture treatment, both which can help with promoting relaxation and emotional release.
- If you don’t have a support network to call upon to give you time alone, find activities that allow you a bit of a mental break while baby comes along, like mom and baby movie screening, or a bookstore browse with baby in the carrier.
Recognizing Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Awareness of postpartum depression has improved drastically and your midwife, family doctor or obstetrician will ask questions throughout your pre and postnatal care to screen for indicators of PPD. After baby arrives however, your follow up care usually only continues for 6 weeks. Be aware that postpartum depression can develop any time during the first year after giving birth. This is why it is particularly important to know the signs of PPD, to discuss them with your partner, close friends and family, and with your healthcare practitioner in order to get the help that you need if PPD arises.
Signs of postpartum depression include:
- Feeling sad or depressed most days of the week
- Having feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness
- Changes to sleep or appetite
- Feeling restless, out of control or having difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawing from or resenting friends and family, including your baby
- Having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor to explore treatment options and appropriate resources in your community.
Community-based family resource centres are available in most provinces and states. Services vary by location but most include parent/child interactive drop in sessions where you can meet other parents in your area. Look into finding a centre near you for support.