Many women experience “the baby blues” and mood swings after delivery—the natural ups and downs of hormones play a role. But about 20 percent of women suffer a deeper depression during the year following delivery, according to research.1 Getting screened during pregnancy (and postpartum too) is important for recognizing and getting help, especially for women who are at a high risk of depression. What steps can you take to support your health now?
Know the risks. Women who have a history of depression of any kind are at a higher risk of postpartum depression. If you fall into this category, talk with your doctor during your pregnancy. Ask her for ways to help support your health and lower your risk.
Get the recommended DHA. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA found in fish oil may reduce symptoms of postpartum depression when consumed during pregnancy.2,3 The challenge is that many women don’t consume enough fatty fish—such as salmon—during their pregnancy to get the benefits of DHA. Health experts recommend that pregnant women consume 200 mg of DHA daily.4
Manage stress. Stress can be a precursor to postpartum depression, so learning valuable techniques now to combat stress—yoga, meditation, breathing, taking some time to yourself.
Set up a support system. Family and friends may already be offering to help with things like cleaning, making (and freezing) meals. Accept their offers. Setting up a solid support network now will help you avoid feeling isolated and overwhelmed later.
Take a prenatal class. Meeting other new moms starts a dialogue with them. You’ll have a network of other moms to turn to and share with.
Be smart with sleep. Sleep deprivation can raise your risk of feeling depressed. So listen to your body’s sleep needs now. Take naps, go to bed early. Looking for pockets of time to rest will help you.
Talk to mom friends. Ask what they found most difficult after delivery. If it was finding couple time, get the names of a few sitters. Planning for obstacles you may encounter can help you feel more in control.
Maintain your pre-mom identity. While you’re pregnant, continue to go to your book club or cooking class—whatever activities you enjoy. Seek ways you might reasonably keep up with passions and connections. Some new moms feel a loss of identity, which can be a risk factor for postpartum depression.
Bring any depression symptoms to your doctor. If you’re feeling depressed while pregnant or after delivery, it’s important to talk with your doctor or a therapist. Here are some symptoms5 to watch out for:
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness or anxiety
- Severe mood swings
- Inconsolable crying
- Extreme fatigue
- Having a hard time bonding with your baby
- Distancing yourself from your friends and family
- Feeling isolated
- Complete loss of appetite
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby
- Difficulty taking care of your baby and carrying out everyday tasks
1Wisner KL, Sit DK, McShea MC, Rizzo DM, Zoretich RA, Hughes CL, Eng HF, Luther JF, Wisniewski SR, Costantino ML, Confer AL, Moses-Kolko EL, Famy CS, Hanusa BH Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings. Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. 2013 May; 70(5):490-8
2Is there any benefit to taking fish oil supplements for depression? - Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/fish-oil-supplements/faq-20058143
3Judge MP, Beck CT, Durham H, McKelvey MM, Lammi-Keefe CJ. Pilot trial evaluating maternal docosahexaenoic acid consumption during pregnancy: Decreased postpartum depressive symptomatology. International Journal of Nursing Sciences 2014;1:339-345
4Koletzko B, Cetin I, Brenna JT, et al Dietary fat intakes for pregnant and lactating women. The British Journal of Nutrition 2007 Nov; 98 (5):873-7
5Mayo Clinic Postpartum Depression (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/definition/con-20029130?p=1)