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10 Tips for Navigating Postpartum Mental Health

Society leads some to believe that having a baby should be one of the happiest times in your life, and for some it is. However, one in seven women will experience some form of postpartum mental health disorder, according to the American Psychological Association.

While I was aware of my predisposition to becoming a statistic in this category since I have suffered from mental illness most of my adult life, I admittedly wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. While hindsight is 20/20, my goal now is to use my experience to help other moms, or moms-to-be, who may be at risk or are currently suffering.

While every individual is unique and no two people experience mental health struggles the same, my hope is that at least one of the following tips will be helpful to someone in some way.

1. Devise a plan regarding your psychotropic medications. 

If you take a prescription drug to manage your mental illness, I cannot stress this enough — do not go off your meds cold turkey. This is not only dangerous, but depending on what medications you are on it can be life-threatening. If you are thinking about trying to get pregnant, make an appointment with your doctor beforehand to discuss your options in managing your mental health.

If you find out you are pregnant, make an immediate appointment with your prescribing doctor. Depending on the medication you are on, you may be advised to taper off or decrease the dosage for the safety of the baby. With that being said, the good news is there are currently many medications that are safe to take while pregnant. You and your doctor can discuss the risks and outweigh the pros and cons of remaining on your meds.

Talk to your doctor about what your mental health and medication management will look like after the baby is born, especially if you are thinking about breastfeeding. Remember, your health and safety should be taken into account the same as the baby’s, and if mom isn’t healthy, the baby won’t be either.

2. Create a support system early on.

Whether it be friends, family, neighbors, doctors, your therapist, coworkers, or a combination, make sure to have a list of people you can count on or can reach out to should you need them. Knowing who these people are early on can save you time, and take out some of the guesswork when time comes for you to need them.

3. Utilize your support system.

If you’re anything like me, you may have a stubborn side (shout out to my dad, grandpa and my German genes). While this can be useful in other areas of your life, I can tell you from experience it is anything but post-baby. Whether it’s a sense of pride in wanting to do everything yourself, not wanting to bother anyone, or just assuming you can juggle it all, as they say “having a baby takes a village,” and you don’t have to tackle it all alone. Your mother-in-law offers to make dinner? Take her up on it! A neighbor offers to clean your house? Let her! Your partner urges you to leave your baby with him or her so you can check in with your therapist? Don’t question it! The more you take advantage of the people in your life who want to help you, the healthier you and your baby will be.

4. Pay attention to what is healthy for yourself and your baby.

If you haven’t yet noticed that everyone has an opinion, there will be no denying it once you are pregnant or have a baby. Everyone knows exactly what you or your baby need solely because it worked for them, or they read it from some mommy blogger. Want some unsolicited advice from this mom? (I hope you’re shaking your head “no,” but if not, we’ll get to that in tip #6). My advice is this — don’t take anyone else’s advice! Each and every baby is different, as is each baby’s mom. Even though your friend may tell you that perfectly swaddling your baby in a cashmere blanket before nursing him and turning on his combination humidifier/sound machine while incorporating the Ferber Method is the only way to ensure your baby will sleep soundly through the night, it’s not. Most of the time people are well-intentioned, and hope that since something worked for them, it may work for you too.

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every situation is unique and should be treated as such. The biggest offender in this category, in my opinion, is the topic of breastfeeding. It’s a hot button issue that some feel passionately about. While there is no doubt that breastfeeding has its many benefits, it is not the only way to provide your baby with nutrition. Some women choose not to, or are unable to do so, and you know what? That’s OK! You need to do what is best given your situation and try not to fixate on the sometimes harsh opinions of others. So try not to feel guilty about needing to do something that seems to go against the grain. Chances are there are plenty of other moms in your same boat, but are afraid to admit it.

5. Unplug a bit from social media.

I know this one can be tough, especially during those late night feedings and wanting a distraction. I’m not suggesting you get rid of it altogether, (but if you do, I’m totally supportive of it!) I’m just suggesting you try to scale back. While going through the rollercoaster ride of emotions post-baby, it can be easy to exacerbate those emotions by seeing everyone’s “highlight reel.” Seeing a pic of that mom who gave birth around the same time as you already back to her pre-baby body, or even worse, reading that her “perfect” baby is already sleeping through the night and never cries (eye roll) can be enough to send your insecurities soaring. There are actually apps focused on helping you manage your screen time (yes, the irony!) including Moment, BreakFree and AppDetox.

6. It is OK to say “no.”

As a people pleaser myself, I know how tough this one can be. We don’t want to take the risk of offending someone, hurting their feelings, or making them feel uncomfortable. But where does being so concerned about others leave you? On the back burner. The sooner you set boundaries, the easier it will be long-term. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, especially when it involves your baby (i.e. having your cousin’s snotty-nosed kid hold him), it is perfectly OK to say “no.” And if someone gets offended by it? That’s their problem.

7. Try not to immediately take on too much.

Going back to that “hindsight is 20/20” realization, I still shake my head when I think back to five years ago when 10 weeks after my daughter was born, I went back to both work and graduate school full-time — all while having a colicky infant who never slept. For some, that would be no problem, but for me? It was a recipe for disaster. That being said, be realistic with yourself about what you are capable of handling. Personally speaking, knowing how I tend to operate, it probably would have been more realistic for me to ease back into everything gradually versus jumping back into my obligations headfirst at once.

There is a major adjustment period that goes along with having a baby, and it is important to remember that the world won’t end if you decide you need some time before returning to your regular tasks and duties. If you do find yourself having bitten off more than you can chew, you do have options. You can go back to #3 in this list, or figure out a way to scale it back a bit. Is there a way to lighten your job’s workload or work part-time for a period of time? Is there a possibility of hiring a housekeeper to help keep up with the household chores? Can you hire a babysitter if you want to run errands solo, or have a date night with your partner? Take some time to think about what you might realistically be able to work out in order to alleviate some of your stress.

8. Practice self-care.

Self-care is such a hot topic these days, and one in which there are many interpretations. The bottom line is: self-care can refer to anything you want it to, as long as the premise aligns with the title — taking care of yourself.

Whether it is five minutes, or an hour and five minutes, it is important to practice this daily. This can include: meditating, taking a bubble bath, going for a leisurely stroll, catching up with an old friend on the phone, or reading a chapter or two of a new book while drinking coffee. It can be anything that makes you feel good and should be incorporated into your life on a regular basis.

9. Be aware of warning signs.

While it can be difficult to recognize the signs and symptoms of your mental health being in jeopardy, it is extremely important to try your best to do so. The earlier you are able to notice the signs, the easier it is to tackle. For example, if you notice your anxiety is consistently amping up with each passing day, it’s time to reassess. Do I need to call my doctor for a possible medication change? Am I taking on too much at work? Am I using my support system? Nobody knows you better than you, so be honest with yourself if you start feeling out of whack.

10. Do not be afraid to reach out for help.

If you’ve tried the above mentioned tips and still find yourself struggling, it’s OK to ask for more support. Luckily there are so many great resources at our fingertips. Many areas have therapists, support groups, or IOP programs specializing in postpartum related issues.
Another great resource is Postpartum Support International. It is a wonderful organization designed to support, educate and give local resource information.

If you find yourself in a crisis or feel you could be a danger to yourself or your baby, please either text HOME to 741741, call 911, or go to your nearest emergency room.

Remember, help is always available and you are never alone.

A version of this story originally appeared on mindfulstl.com.

Photo credit: paulaphoto/Getty Images