fend off postpartum depression

Becoming a mother and holding your tiny newborn for the first time is an experience you won’t soon forget. But for too many women, postpartum depression soon swoops in and sucks all the joy out of parenthood. When you’re feeling sad and overwhelmed, it’s important to seek help rather than trying to suffer through it alone.

Left untreated, depression can reduce your quality of life and even become life-threatening. It can also steal your happiness during a time when you should be enjoying life with the newest addition to your family. Here are four ways to fend off those melancholy feelings and start relishing the joys of motherhood.

1. Know How and When to Seek Help

The birth of a baby can trigger many powerful emotions, such as excitement and anxiety. But many women don’t realize that it can also send them spiraling into a deep depression. Most women go through a period of sadness after childbirth known as the “baby blues.” It can lead to fluctuating emotions, and it’s due in part to the hormonal changes that occur after giving birth. These temporary feelings of sadness and anxiety are very normal and generally pass after a few weeks.

Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is a more serious disorder accompanied by severe, long-term feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, or despair. Without medical help, these emotions can grow more intense and turn into chronic depression. It’s essential to consult with your doctor if you think you have this more serious type of depression. Depending on the severity of your case, your doctor may make recommendations ranging from outpatient therapy to medication to mental health rehab.

2. Know the Signs of Depression

Too many new mothers ignore the first signs of postpartum depression. They think they’re simply dealing with the natural consequences of physical and mental stress caused by parenthood. They mistakenly assume that the negative emotions they’re feeling will soon go away on their own. Before they know it, those small twinges of sadness morph into an all-consuming depression that makes everyday life difficult to bear.

To avoid the above scenario, learn as much as you can about the early signs of postpartum depression. These include intense anger and irritability, withdrawal from loved ones, severe mood swings, and panic or anxiety attacks. It’s also common for people with this condition to feel worthless or inadequate. In some cases, women with postpartum depression may have persistent thoughts about harming themselves or their babies. If you have any of these feelings, recognize that you have a mental health disorder and seek treatment.

3. Get More Sleep

Depression and sleep problems are more closely connected than many people realize. Insufficient shuteye can reduce your emotional resilience and make you more likely to develop depression. Unfortunately, lack of sleep is one of the hallmarks of new parenthood. Babies typically wake up every few hours during their first few weeks or months of life. This makes it challenging to get a restful night’s sleep.

Whenever possible, try to sleep when your baby sleeps. This might mean adopting a haphazard sleep schedule for the first few weeks of motherhood, and that’s OK. Turn off your phone and silence your doorbell so you can catnap without interruptions when your baby dozes off. You and your partner can also take turns getting up with your little one during the night. Don’t forget to accept help from friends and family members when they offer to watch your newborn so you can get some extra Z’s.

4. Get Regular Exercise

Moving your body is important for both your physical and mental health, especially after having a baby. Exercise releases depression-fighting endorphins and increases your sense of well-being. It can be hard to find the time or energy to exercise as a new mom, but you’re worth the effort. Many moms pay babysitters to watch their kids while they head to the gym. Some find it easier to take their babies on walks with them around the neighborhood.

To avoid overdoing it too soon after childbirth, always follow your doctor’s exercise recommendations. Within the first few weeks, you’ll want to take things fairly easy. Start with short walks around the neighborhood, while avoiding steep hills or rough terrain. Over time, you can build up to moderate aerobics. Pay attention to your body and stop immediately if you feel pain.

5. Eat Healthy Foods

A multi-country study shows that eating junk food increases your depression risk. You may think you’ve earned that burger and fries after your hard work delivering a baby. But indulging in too many sugary, fatty, salty, or heavily processed foods can negatively impact your mood. So think twice before sending your partner to the nearest fast-food joint to satisfy your cravings. Instead, make wise food choices.

Just as some foods can contribute to depression, other foods can help you combat it. Choose options that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin D. These nutrients are all shown to decrease depression-related symptoms. They can be found in fish, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, whole grains, and milk.

Banishing Postpartum Depression

Many new mothers develop postpartum depression. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and in many cases, it’s totally outside of your control. But taking care of your physical and mental health — including seeking treatment — can help you fight off these feelings when they arise. As you do, you’ll be able to find more fulfillment and joy in the miracle of motherhood.