I’m sure most of us moms have heard of the term “baby blues”. But what exactly is it? And how serious can it get? I am here to address this very thing and give some tips on how to effectively get through this difficult emotional time.
First, we need to identify the difference between “baby blues” and postpartum depression. “Baby blues” are defined as a normal drop in hormone levels that cause moodiness, forgetfulness, stress, and an overall weary feeling. Typically, the “baby blues” last only a few weeks and affect 50-80% of new moms. With postpartum depression, you experience similar side effects. However, these side effects are much more intense and last much longer; ranging from a few months to a year or longer. Those who suffer from postpartum depression (also known as PPD) typically experience extreme sadness, anger, confusion, hopelessness, and have a hard time bonding with their baby.
If you are feeling these symptoms for longer than a few months, you may have a serious problem and I encourage you to keep reading! According to Shoshana Bennett, PH.D, “25% of mothers untreated for PPD remain depressed after 1 year.” (cited from psychologytoday.com). That is exactly what happened to me. After having my first son, I was unaware of how emotionally unstable I had become. My PPD symptoms lasted approximately 3 years. It was a difficult journey to navigate through. But I was finally able to discover ways to break free from it. Below, I have created a list of (non-medicated) ways to help maneuver yourself back to a steady emotional state. (I understand there are extreme cases where medication is necessary. However, that will not be included as one of my suggestions).
1. Addressing the Loneliness
The number one complaint I hear from new stay-at-home-moms is how they suddenly feel so alone. And to make matters worse, your spouse (or significant other) most likely doesn’t understand how you feel. My husband used to ask me all the time, “How can you feel so alone when you’re with the baby all day?” Well, that’s just it!…you are with a baby all day. A baby who has not yet learned to communicate in an intelligent way. You are constantly guessing what he needs…ALL BY YOURSELF. So if you are also suffering from “baby blues” or PPD, this feeling of loneliness would be intensified and overwhelming. My number one suggestion for helping you get through this, is reaching out to other moms with children of similar ages. If you are a shy person, like myself, this is a lot easier said than done. But at the end of the day, us women have an undeniable need to have a social connection with others. I would certainly recommend mommeetmom.com as a starting point in achieving that social connection. Also, there are usually churches that have local mom groups that meet once a week. Those would be the two best places I suggest you start.
2. Allow for Flexibility
The type of flexibility I am referring to is your baby’s own crazy schedule. Never assume the sleeping or feeding pattern that your baby is following will continue for very long. Always be prepared for her to change it up! If you truly take this advice to heart, you will have an easier time adjusting and adjusting again! It will be less of a shock to your already fragile emotional state. You need to be aware ahead of time that changes will keep coming. Also, don’t ever try comparing your baby’s development with another child. Because in all reality, there are no true “rules” as to when your baby “should” be able to do certain things. If your baby’s lack of advancement is truly giving you anxiety, first RELAX! There are plenty of resources available to help you guide her growth. Most importantly, you need to learn to go with her flow, and she will get there too!
3. Don’t Isolate Yourself from Your Spouse
As someone who suffered from PPD, isolating yourself can turn into a strangely comfortable thing. Even to the point of isolating yourself from your spouse. However, communicating your frustrations to him is actually good for the both of you. But if you’re living within a depressed state of mind, communication can often go haywire! “Communication” is a common word now-a-days that is often overused and misunderstood. Just like anything else in life, there is a Right way to communicate, and a Wrong way to communicate. For example, would you attempt to run a mile at a sprint pace the entire way? Or would you attempt to create a steady pace that is more manageable? This concept is similar in the ways we choose to communicate. When you open up to your spouse about your frustrations, do you frantically dump each and every detail of your feelings all at once? Or do you give him a moderate picture of what is going on? Yes, it is good to have your spouse as a safe haven to express your feelings. Yet, it is not good to expect him to harbor every last detail of your thoughts. I know it will be very tempting for stay-at-home-moms to do this (given the fact that you are by yourself all day). But learn to steady your pace in the way you reveal your thoughts. It will help make things feel a little less hectic.
4. Find Your Daily Mantra
A lot of people find it motivating to have some sort of key word or phrase that reminds them to keep going. I always thought it was pretty stupid, actually. But when I thought of my own motivating phrase, it completely changed my attitude on life. The phrase I live by is “Create Your Own Paradise”. The biggest meaning behind that is no matter what sort of out-of-control situation you are in (whether it’s “baby blues”, PPD, or getting laid off from work), there are always things to do each day that you CAN control. I allowed myself to acknowledge the little things that gave me joy. So I did them! And I don’t mean little things like doing the dishes or sorting through laundry. (But if that stuff gives you joy, then by all means, do it! And come clean my house too if ya want!) Give yourself something to look forward to. I am talking about stuff like reading a few chapters of your favorite book, or taking your baby for a walk in his stroller, or even going to the drive thru to buy that special coffee drink you can barely afford! Having little joys in your day can make all the difference. And since exercise and motivating phrases commonly go hand in hand, I would also recommend doing an at home exercise routine. Nothing complicated though. It could be as simple as 30 minutes every other day. Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, exercise is a great way to help keep emotional balance. I truly believe that my exercise routine in combination with my new “life phrase” were the biggest parts of my transition out of my depression.
5. Don’t “Enjoy Every Moment”
I know this may sound bazaar, but enjoying every moment of your child’s life as a baby is damn near impossible! So don’t try. The worst thing you can do if you are suffering from “baby blues” or PPD is to paste a fake smile on your face and pretend that you are so in love with mommy-hood. You have to let yourself FEEL those negative emotions when they happen. Don’t hide from them. If you do, you will only prolong the process of getting past it. However, you must not let those emotions consume you! That’s when it can get dangerous. Have an outlet. Write in a journal, rock out to your favorite music, scream into your pillow for 9 minutes if you have to! Whatever thing you need to do to release your frustrations in a constructive way, go for it! And for the record, rockin’ out to music in your living room does not make you a crazy person. It’s actually really fun! ALL of us need those type of releases in our lives. It’s basic emotional therapy and it’s important to give yourself an outlet. And by the way, the commonly used phrase “enjoy every moment” is mostly uttered from the mouths of parents who have truly forgotten what it’s like to raise a baby. They’re not trying to be mean when they say that awful sentence, but perhaps they are trying to say “savor the precious moments”. Not every moment is precious, but trust me, there WILL be some great ones you will never forget. Which some people might say, is the biggest reward when it comes to parenting.
So keep your head up and keep working to better yourself. I know that “baby blues” and postpartum depression are no joke when they grasp onto you. But I can only hope that these things I’ve suggested will help you overcome your struggles like they have helped me.
Rachel Young is a stay at home mom to 3 young boys. She’s been married to her husband for 7 years and they live in Sacramento, California.