The anticipation of expecting a new baby comes with months of physical preparations, from frequent doctor visits to constructing cribs and changing tables. However, for new parents, emotional and mental health preparation is critical as well. There are many resources available about what to pack for the hospital, but the need for an emotional “toolbox” is necessary as well. This is why we asked one of our Therapy Hive providers, Katie Sardone, PhD, of Behavioral Health Dallas, for her suggestions.
Dr. Sardone stated, “Emotional well-being following delivery has to take place prior to the delivery. That includes treating mood and/or anxiety symptoms aggressively.” Dr. Sardone added that half of postpartum mood disorders actually develop during pregnancy. Treatment includes therapy, and certain medications, which can then in turn help with mood, coping, and adjustment for both mom and baby, postpartum.
It is also valuable to know the signs and symptoms of postpartum mood disorders, as well as your own personal risk factors, which Dr. Sardone indicated could include a previous anxiety or depression experience, family history of psychiatric disorders, recent discontinuation of medications, lack of social support, whether the pregnancy was expected or unintended, life stressors, partner conflict, among other risk factors.
Dr. Sardone also emphasized the importance of having realistic expectations of the postpartum period, as well as having a proactive plan to address needs. This includes:
- Understanding that your body is recovering from medical trauma. This means practically, having help around the house with domestic duties, having food and water readily available. It also means understanding the limitations that occur with either a natural or Caesarean section that may make it difficult to walk, shower, or conduct basic tasks. Having a partner, a family member, or a friend available to help in the early weeks at home may be necessary.
- Understand that you will be sleep deprived. Infants are not developmentally ready to sleep through the night until 3-4 months old. This means making a plan with your partner/family member/friend to take turns at night, or to consider hiring a night nanny if that is feasible. Sleep is a top protective factor to combat postpartum mood concerns.
- Understand that nursing makes you hungry and thirsty. This means making a plan to always have food and water readily available, even for those middle of the night feedings. Ask your support system to help you make sure you always have water with you.
- Understand that you will need breaks! This means having a plan for a trusted support system to help with childcare, giving you opportunities to nap, rest, or engage in self-care while the baby is safely cared for.
- Understand that basic coping skills are important to maintain! It is particularly hard to problem solve, and remember how to help yourself when you are sleep deprived. This means making a list of basic coping tools to review when you feel down, or distressed. This can include getting out of the house, taking walks, seeing family members or friends, reading or doing other enjoyable activities, or engaging in activities that have helped you feel better in the past.
- Understand that the baby is on a 24 hour sleep cycle for the first 3-4 months, so that means you may be, too. This means making efforts to maintain a somewhat normal day and night time schedule. Eat breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, dinner at night. Open blinds, interact with others, and try to be more active during the day, and at night, dim the lights, close the blinds, and rest even if you aren’t sleeping.
Of primary importance, though, is knowing where, and when to get help. Dr. Sardone commented that if you or a loved one notice a change in mood, behavior, or something just doesn’t feel right, call your ob-gyn or mental health professional. “Most ob-gyns have psychology or psychiatry referral sources available. Make sure your mental health provider has training and expertise in maternal mental health. For example, you can ask them about their experience, or if they are certified in maternal mental health.” Lastly, if you have thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or the baby, this is a symptom of postpartum mood disorder that requires immediate attention and intervention. Call 911 if there is a concern of safety, and tell your support system to come to your house, and to be with you immediately. You may also wish to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255.