There is an important conversation about Postpartum Depression going on over at Faith and Family. I have not listened to the podcast yet, but I did read Kate Wicker's post and I really agree with her advice. I have had postpartum depression to various degrees after every single pregnancy, so I am beginning to feel like a bit of an expert on the matter. My wise OB offered prozac, but encouraged sleep, diet, exercise and B-vitamins first, and I find that if I am able to get those things, I am able to ride out the rough times without needing medication.
For me, it really has a lot to do with sleep, so having lots of help at night from my husband is crucial (he gets the baby and changes diapers so that I can nurse and we do not co-sleep because I cannot sleep with a baby in my bed and I become severely depressed when sleep deprived), and I sleep as much as I can during the day in the early stages. I also suffer from insomnia, so a doula once advised me to start a bedtime routine while I was pregnant to help to train myself to sleep -- stay away from TV at night, have some soothing tea, etc.
Getting outside helps a lot, though I seem to develop a fear of being in public when I have just had a baby, so a quite walk around the neighborhood is a good first step. It is important to me to have time alone to bond with the baby, now that I have so many other children, so I have developed a habit of going to my room to nurse alone for at least one or two daytime feedings. It is also important to have time totally alone, even just a few uninterrupted moments to shower, phone a friend, or take a walk, alone.
I also have to protect myself emotionally, so I try not to read anything really sad or draining. This meant that I could not read my brother's book while I was post-partum -- it chronicled a difficult time in the life of our family, and I knew that I was just not emotionally strong enough to go back there. My husband knows that sad news stories are not to be repeated, etc. It is pathetic to feel so fragile, but for the good of myself and my family I need to be very gentle for a while.
The greatest change for me came through advice from my spiritual director and that was to take my older children into my confidence. I have told them that my emotions get wacky after I have a baby and that I am trying hard to control them. They know to steer clear or offer to help when I am starting to seem tense. At first I felt guilty about this, almost as though it was abusive, but now I realize that I am giving them a wonderful life skill -- if they have families of their own, they will live with real, complicated emotion and it is important to know how to respond to that. There are moments when a hug from a two year old can be all you need in the world, but also times when being able to ask your six year old to take the two year old to play for a few moments so that you can shower without an audience can save your sanity. If, after wards, you thank that six year old for her help, she has learned that she can really contribute to the well being of the family.
I have also learned that I have second bout of hormonal craziness when my babies wean, which mimics or extends PPD.
They say that a little bit of "baby blues" are normal, but a nurse once told me that a key sign of trouble is when things are not getting a little bit better everyday. This is really helpful advice for a new mom in general because it applies to pediatric health as well -- how do you tell if your baby needs to see a doctor for his runny nose? If it is not getting better. The same is true for that funky looking cut your two year old got at the playground -- not getting better? Time to call the doctor.
I've shared a bit more here than I intended to, it is hard for me to hold back on this subject, but I am closing comments because this is a bit too raw for me, but if you have questions or stories to share please do so over at Faith and Family Live.