There is no “one size fits all” for what works. Strategies that some women have found helpful, that you can mix and match, depending on your circumstances, include:
- Accept help, particularly any offers to assist with household chores or baby care.
- Ask for help, whenever possible. Ofter others are glad to help but don’t know what to do. Pre-made meals are especially beneficial.
- Purchase help, when possible. Options include: hiring a doula or “mother’s helper” to relieve you of childcare or housework; meal service/delivery; hiring someone to do yard work; getting groceries delivered; hiring a counsellor.
- Limit visitors in favour of rest.
- Find others to talk to who have been through the postpartum period and can offer support.
- Find tiny moments for self care. This could include a cup of tea, leafing through a magazine, a phone call or a 15-minute soak in the tub.
- There is no doubt about it: childcare is intense, particularly the first time around. It is normal to want and need time away from the baby. If possible and the support is available, arrange for half an hour to yourself, even if this means just going to a separate room and watching television.
- Eat healthy convenience foods to keep up your strength and be realistic about the need for chocolate too! While not a postpartum article, some of these nutrition tips may help, whether you are suffering from depression or not.
- Limit or eliminate babycare readings. They can have the paradoxical effect of undermining your confidence and your ability to trust yourself as a mother. Similarly, avoid well-meaning people with strong, insistent opinions. There is more than one way of raising a child and trends come and go.
- Find peace within the breastfeeding-bottlefeeding wars. You have to ultimately do what is best for yourself and your family; every situation is different. Find someone who supports your decision. Sometimes women will persevere with breastfeeding when everything and everyone is telling them to stop; other women decide that bottefeeding is the most compassionate and/or practical choice.
- Leave the house with baby, even if it takes 5 hours to get ready. Getting out and experiencing daylight can be very healing and can reduce isolation. Plan an outing that is close by to start—even if it’s just to the end of the street!
- Decide for yourself about parent groups. Some find them invaluable for reducing isolation and making friends, others find the anxieties of other parents contagious.
- Let go of perfectionism. A coordinated baby nursery, or your partner doing housework in a way that’s not your way are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Focus your energy instead on looking after yourself and the baby.
- Remember the acronym NESTS, passed on to me. N=nutrition, E=exercise, S=sleep, T=time for yourself (at least 15 minutes a day), S=social support.
- Don’t overlook organizations like the Pacific Postpartum Society which provides excellent peer phone, text and group support.
- If low mood or anxiety seems unrelenting, you may need professional help. A visit with your family doctor or the Access and Assessment Centre at VGH can be a good place to start. You may also want to meet with a counsellor who has experience helping during with postpartum concerns. If you live in BC and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-SUICIDE or proceed to your local emergency department.
A Special Note About Sleep
Rest and sleep when possible. Uninterrupted sleep is critical for healing depression and anxiety. Getting sleep for yourself may seem like an impossible task given the irregularity of the newborn sleep cycle, if you have a fussy baby or if you are so keyed up and anxious that resting is the last thing you seem to be able to do. Some women become phobic about sleep because they are constantly anticipating that their baby will wake them up.
Ideas for promoting sleep:
- If you have a partner or close relative, ask them to be “on call” for either part of the night or on alternating nights, or on pre-scheduled nights.
- Sleep in a separate room from the baby and if possible, have someone else be available to respond to baby throughout the night.
- Ask for baby to be brought to you for night feedings in your bed if you are breastfeeding or try to arrange for someone else do the feedings if you are bottle-feeding.
- Sharing your bed with baby. This is a highly politicized issue and is a method endorsed by some medical professionals and disputed by others. Unicef UK has further information on this topic.
- Stop screen time and the use of your phone, laptop, etc., one and a half to two hours before bedtime, to eliminate the wakeful effects from blue light.
What Partners Can Do
- It may seem strange, but self-care is an important place to start. If you don’t have “gas in the tank” then you will have nothing to give. Even a few minutes can help.
- Have your own support system, whether it be talking to someone else about what you are going through or participating in a social activity.
- Get online support from other postpartum partners.
- Help with housework and childcare before asked; this allows your partner to have moments where they can rest more easily and let go of worries about the house.
- Tell your partner that they are a great parent; give specific examples of success
- Assist your partner to get sleep whenever possible; handle some of the night feedings if you can.
- The time after the birth of a baby is extraordinarily stressful for couples. An excellent read is “And Baby Makes Three” by psychologist John Gottman.
- Bide your time. You and your partner may not be communicating in the way that you are accustomed. As depression improves, your ways of relating to each other will change. If it’s not for the better, consult with a professional couples counsellor.
- Listen without giving advice. Sometimes all that’s needed is just having the permission to talk.
- Encourage your partner to take breaks; this will greatly help mental health.
- Offer healthy snacks and/or prepare meals – this helps to reduce irritability that often comes with low blood sugar and helps with the physical demands of caring for an infant.
- Understand about sex – postpartum sex drive is typically low, and even more so when depression or anxiety is involved. As your partner’s symptoms improve, so will sex drive. Affection can also be communicated in other ways: hugs, cuddling, back rubs, holding hands, etc.
- Low mood and anxiety can also be common in partners. If your mood remains low despite your best efforts, consider talking to a counselling professional who recognizes the impact of the postpartum period on partners.
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