Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Baby Blues

By Elizabeth Pantley, author of Gentle Baby Care

I remember when I was lying in my hospital bed after thebirth of my fourth child, Coleton. I had endured a full day of labor and adifficult delivery (who says the fourth one comes easily?), and I was tiredbeyond explanation. After the relief of seeing my precious new child came anuncontrollable feeling to close my eyes and sleep. As my husband cradlednewborn Coleton, I drifted off; my parting thoughts were, “I can’t do this. Idon’t have the energy. How will I ever take care of a baby?” Luckily for me, afew hours of sleep, a supportive family, and lucky genes were all it took tofeel normal again. But as many as 80% of new mothers experience a case of thebaby blues that lasts for weeks after the birth of their baby. This isn’tsomething new mothers can control ¾ there’s no place for blame. The most wonderful andcommitted mothers, even experienced mothers of more than one child, can get thebaby blues.

What are baby blues?

Your baby’s birth has set into motion great changes in yourbody and in your life, and your emotions are reacting in a normal way. Dramatichormonal shifts occur when a body goes from pregnant to not pregnant in amanner of minutes. Add to this your new title (Mommy!) and the responsibilitiesthat go with it, and your blues are perfectly understandable. You’re not alone;this emotional letdown during the first few weeks is common after birth. Justremember that your state of mind has a physical origin and is exacerbated bychallenging circumstances ¾ and you and your body will adjust to both soon.

How do I know if I have the baby blues?

Every woman who experiences the baby blues (also calledpostpartum blues) does so in a different way. The most common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Sadness or feelings of loss
  • Stress and tension
  • Impatience or a short temper
  • Bouts of crying or tearfulness
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive tiredness
  • Not wanting to get dressed, go out, or clean up the house

Could it be more than just the baby blues?

If you’re not sure whether you have the blues ask yourdoctor or midwife, and don’t feel embarrassed: This is a question that healthcare providers hear often and with good reason. If you’re feeling thesesymptoms to a degree that disrupts your normal level of function, if your babyis more than a few weeks old, or if you have additional symptoms ¾particularly feelings of resentment or rejection toward your baby or even atemptation to harm him ¾ you may have more than the blues, you may havepostpartum depression. This is a serious illness that requires immediatetreatment. Please call a doctor or professional today. If you can’t makethe call, then please talk to your partner, your mother or father, a sibling orfriend and ask them to arrange for help. Do this for yourself and for yourbaby. If you can’t talk about it, hand this page it to someone close to you.It’s that important. You do not have to feel this way, and safetreatment is available, even if you’re breastfeeding.

How can I get rid of the blues?

While typical baby blues are fairly brief and usuallydisappear on their own, you can do a few things to help yourself feel betterand get through the next few emotional days or weeks:

· Give yourself time. Grant yourself permissionto take the time you need to become a mother. Pregnancy lasts nine months, theadoption process can take even longer, and your baby’s actual birth is only amoment ¾but becoming a mother takes time. Motherhood is an immense responsibility. Inmy opinion, it is the most overwhelming, meaningful, incredible, transformingexperience of a lifetime. No wonder it produces such emotional and physicalchange!

No other event of this magnitude would ever be takenlightly, so don’t feel guilty for treating this time in your life as the verybig deal it is. Remind yourself that it’s okay (and necessary) to focus on thisnew aspect of your life and make it your number-one priority. Tending to anewborn properly takes time ¾ all the time in his world. So, instead of feelingguilty or conflicted about your new focus, put your heart into getting to knowthis new little person. The world can wait for a few weeks.

Consider as objectively as you can just what you haveaccomplished: You have formed a new, entire person inside your own body andbrought him forth; you have been party to a miracle. Or, if you've adopted, you've chosen toinvite a miracle into your life and became an instant mother. Youdeserve a break and some space in which to just exist with your amazing littleone, unfettered by outside concerns.

· Talk to someone who understands. Talk to a sibling,relative or friend with young children about what you are feeling. Someone whohas experienced the baby blues can help you realize that they are temporary,and everything will be fine. A confidante can also serve as a checkpoint whocan encourage you to seek help if he or she perceives that you need it.

·Reach out and get out. Simplygetting out (if you are physically able and okayed for this by your health careprovider) and connecting with people at large can go a long way towardreorienting your perspective. Four walls can close in very quickly, so changethe scenery and head to the mall, the park, the library, a coffeehouse ¾whatever place you enjoy. You’ll feel a sense of pride as strangers ooh and ahhover your little one, and your baby will enjoy the stimulation, too.

· Join a support group. Joining a support group,either in person or online, can help you sort through your feelings about newmotherhood. Take care to choose a group that aligns with your core beliefsabout parenting a baby. As an example, if you are committed to breastfeeding,but most other members of the group are bottlefeeding, this may not be the bestplace for you, since your breastfeeding issues won’t be understood and youwon’t find many helpful ideas among this group. If you have multiples, apremature baby, or a baby with special needs, for example, seek out a group forparents with babies like yours. And within those parameters, look for a groupwith your same overall parenting beliefs. Just because you all have twinbabies doesn’t mean you will all choose to parent them in the same way, so tryto find like-minded new friends.

· Tell Daddy what he can do to help. It’s veryimportant that your spouse or partner be there for you right now. He may wantto help you, but he may be unsure of how. Here are a few things that he can dofor you ¾show him this list to help him help you:

  • Understand. It’s critical that your spouse or partner feel that you understand that she is going through a hormonally driven depression that she cannot control ¾ and that she is not “just being grumpy.” Tell her you know this is normal, and that she’ll be feeling better soon. Simply looking over this list and using some of the ideas will tell her a lot about your commitment to (and belief in) her.
  • Let her talk about her feelings. Knowing she can talk to you about her feelings without being judged or criticized will help her feel much better.
  • Tend to the baby. Taking care of your baby so Mommy can sleep or take a shower can give her a breath of fresh air. Have her nurse the baby and then you can take him for a walk (using a sling will keep Baby happy) or go on an outing. A benefit for you is that most babies love to be out and about and will enjoy this special time with you.
  • Step in to protect her. If she’s overwhelmed with visitors, kindly explain to company that she needs a lot of rest. Help her with whatever household duties usually fall to her (or get someone to help her) and do what you can to stay on top of yours. Worry about the house’s cleanliness or laundry upkeep will do her no good whatsoever. If relatives offer to take the baby for a few hours, or to help with the house, take them up on it.
  • Tell her she’s beautiful. Most woman feel depressed about the way they look after childbirth ¾ because most still look four months pregnant! After changing so greatly to accommodate a baby’s development, a woman’s body takes months to regain any semblance of normalcy. Be patient with both her body and her feelings about it. Tell her what an amazing thing she’s accomplished. Any compliments that acknowledge her unique beauty are sure to be greatly appreciated!
  • Tell her you love the baby. Don’t be bashful about gushing over the baby. Mommy loves to hear that you’re enraptured with this new little member of your family.
  • Be affectionate, but be patient about sex. With all that she’s struggling with physically and emotionally, weeks may pass before she’s ready for sex (even if she’s had an OK after her checkup.) That doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you or need you ¾ she just needs a little time to get back to the physical aspects of your sexual relationship.
  • Tell her you love her. Even when she isn’t feeling down, she needs to hear this ¾ and right now it’s more important for her health and well-being than ever.
  • Get support for you, too. Becoming a father is a giant step in your life. Open up to a friend about how it feels to be a Dad, and do things that you enjoy, too. Taking care of yourself will help you take care of your new family.

Accept help from others. Family and friends are often happy to help ifyou just ask. When people say, “Let me know if I can do anything” they usually meanit. So, go ahead and ask kindly for what you want, whether it’s watching yourbaby so that you can nap, taking your older child to the park, helping you makea meal, or doing some laundry.

Get some sleep. Right now, sleeplessness will enhanceyour feelings of depression. So, take every opportunity to get some shuteye.Nap when the baby sleeps, go to bed early, and sleep in later in the morning ifyou can. If you are co-sleeping, take advantage of this special time when youdon’t have to get up out of bed to tend to your baby. And if your baby’s sleeppatterns are distressing to you then reach out to an experienced parent forhelp, or check out my book The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to HelpYour Baby Sleep Through the Night.

Don’t fret about perfection right now. Householdduties are not your top priority now ¾ in fact, nothing asidefrom getting to know your baby is. Remember that people are coming to see your baby,not your house, so enjoy sharing your baby with visitors without worryingabout a little clutter or dust. Simplify, prioritize, and delegate routinetasks, errands, and obligations.

Enjoy your job. If you work outside the home, thenview your time at your job as an opportunity to refresh and prepare yourself toenjoy your baby fully when you are at home. Go ahead ¾ talk about your baby andshare pictures with your co-workers. Chances are, they’ll love to hear aboutyour new little one. This is a nice and appropriate way of indulging yournatural instincts to focus on your baby when you can’t be with her.

Get into exercising. With your health careprovider’s approval, start exercising with short walks or swims. Exercisewill help you feel better in many ways both physical and emotional. Even if youdidn’t exercise before you had your baby, this is a great time to start.Studies prove that regular exercise helps combat depression, and it will helpyou regain your pre-baby body much more quickly.

Eat healthful foods. When the body isn’t properlynourished, spirits can flag ¾ particularly when the stress of recovery makes morenutritional demands. If you are breastfeeding, a nourishing diet is importantfor both you and your baby. Healthful foods, eaten in frequent meals, canprovide the nutrition you need to combat the baby blues and give you the energyyou need to handle your new role. And don’t forget to drink water and otherhealthy fluids, especially if you’re nursing! Dehydration can cause fatigue andheadaches.

Take care of yourself. Parenting a new baby is anenormous responsibility, but things will fall into place for you and everythingwill seem easier given time. During this adjustment phase, try to do a fewthings for yourself. Simple joys like reading a book, painting your nails,going out to lunch with a friend or other ways in which you nourish your spiritcan help you feel happier.

Love yourself. You are amazing: You’ve become motherto a beautiful new baby. You’ve played a starring role in the production of anincredible miracle. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, and take the time toknow and enjoy the strong, capable, multifaceted person you are becoming.

This article is a copyrighted excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)
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