“Do you have a birth plan?”
“Are you going back to work or staying home?”
“Are you planning on co-sleeping?”
These are questions we often hear as we walk towards parenthood. All this planning and decision-making can be exhilarating, overwhelming, or a bit of both. For those of us who have a history of depression or anxiety, there’s one more area to plan for—and it’s one that could make a huge difference in the quality of our postpartum life.
As someone who has dealt with bouts of depression on and off for years, I wasn’t surprised to be struck with postpartum depression following the birth of my first child. But I was shocked by the intensity of it. By the intrusive thoughts that pulsed through my mind. By the drenching, hormone-fueled night sweats and anxiety. And by the question that lay beating just underneath everything: Was becoming a mother the biggest mistake of my life?
Fortunately, I knew how to connect with resources. It didn’t take long to connect with a great therapist, a support group and to tweak my medication. The intrusive thoughts dissolved, the animal panic quieted. Though motherhood was still the hardest role of my life, it became, with time and help, more manageable.
When I became pregnant with my daughter, I knew I needed to make a plan in the likely event that postpartum depression visited me again. While I did experience depression following her birth, it dissipated much more quickly.
Here are the steps I took to put together a postpartum plan:
1. Work with a psychiatric nurse practitioner or psychiatrist
Many of us turn to our primary care providers or maternal health providers when we’re experiencing issues such as depression or anxiety during our pregnancy or afterwards. But the reality is that most providers aren’t specialists in these issues. Because of this, we might get advice that might not be up to date or accurate, making our journey even harder and more confusing. During my second pregnancy, I consulted with a psychiatrist who specialized in maternal mental health, and I found great comfort in his assurances that the antidepressant I was on was considered quite safe for fetus and nursing infants.
And when I started feeling the familiar tug of depression after my daughter’s birth, all I had to do was call my psychiatrist. He adjusted my medication, and my symptoms quickly calmed.
While having a plan can't guarantee that we avoid postpartum depression, it may minimize the suffering.
2. Identify a support group.
Postpartum depression can be incredibly isolating. Many people expect new parenthood to be among the happiest times of our lives, and when it’s not, it can lead to feelings of shame, worsening our already fragile mental state. Talking with other women who are having similar experiences can provide immense comfort. Ask your providers if they know of a local support group for postpartum adjustment issues.
3. Find a therapist
Becoming a parent is one of the biggest changes of our lives, and having a trained professional supporting us through the transition can soften the blow. While I was fortunate to quickly find a wonderful therapist after my son’s birth, it would’ve been even better to have already established a relationship with a counselor. Going through the process of finding someone who’s a good fit, making sure they take your insurance and can accommodate your schedule takes time—and it's much less overwhelming if we take care of them before we’re juggling a new baby.
4. Create a plan with your spouse, family and friends
My husband went back to work a week after our son was born. At the same time, my parents returned to their home on the other side of the country. Suddenly it was just me, my new baby and a ton of angst. The second time around, I knew what I needed to soften the adjustment of adding another baby to the family. I asked my husband to take as much time off from work as he could, and I asked my parents to extend their stay. I also found a postpartum doula to help provide an extra set of hands on the days my son didn’t have preschool, as I learned how to juggle life with a newborn and a toddler.
5. Try natural remedies
To help cover as many bases as possible, I decided to have my placenta encapsulated after my daughter’s birth. A professional dehydrated it and turned it into capsules that I could take daily. By ingesting the placenta, it’s theorized that we restore some of the lost hormones that drop off after birth and can contribute to depression and anxiety. I don’t know if these capsules genuinely helped shorten my postpartum depression or not, but taking them added to the sense that I was doing everything in my power to not repeat the intensity of my first go-around with PPD.
While having a plan can't guarantee that we avoid postpartum depression, it may minimize the suffering. And anything that helps us enjoy our newborns a little more is worth a shot.
Photograph by: Unsplash by Naomi August