Before the birth of my first son, I had no idea how I would feel postpartum. I assumed it would be the most amazing, magical moment in time that would continue on forever. And it was, for at least a little while. The first section will outline the "normal", healthy, expected postpartum emotions. The second section will outline what isn't a healthy/normal way to feel postpartum, emotions that may indicate postpartum depression (from my personal experience).
Immediately after birth
Since I had had an amazing, empowering natural birth experience, my oxytocin levels were through the roof. I was ecstatic. Any exhaustion immediately left my body. Such a high. And it remained that way for about 12 hours after. I was so excited and in love with this little baby in my arms, I couldn't sleep if I had wanted to.
Exhaustion will catch up to you, sleep deprivation does that. Oxytocin levels start to fall and reality hits. You may be struggling to get the latch right, your milk is starting to come in and your baby is permanently attached to your breast. You haven't brushed your hair or showered since the birth. By this stage you might start to question how you're going to survive, but you're still besotted by your newborn. Overall, you're doing OK. Meanwhile, you have visitors 24 hours a day. None of them seem to take the hint you want to sleep.
How to survive:
1. Don't feel obliged to host: you don't have to allow every tom, dick and harry to visit. This is your time, with your baby. You need to rest and recover. People will understand if you say you don't want visitors for the first week or two.
2. Have visiting hours: just like at hospital, ensure there is an acceptable time for visiting and for resting. Don't allow visitors after lunch, chances are you will need to have a nap.
3. Nap when the baby naps: yeh right! In an ideal world you really should. At the very least have a nap after lunch. If you feel comfortable, lay down with bub and have a nap (ensure you follow safe co-sleeping rules)
4. Don't worry about the housework. Honestly, it's not worth the stress. The mess will be there later, your baby won't stay small forever. You'll catch up eventually (that's a lie, I'm still trying to catch up on housework 4 years later). Ask your mum, husband, visitors to help out with a few tasks if you feel comfortable in asking. Alternatively hire help.
You’re sobbing uncontrollably. You can't see straight as you're so exhausted. Your nipples hurt and the house is a mess (unless you have an amazing husband/mother/sister etc.). All you want to do is stand in a hot shower for 3 hours. “Is this it?” you may ask yourself. Is this how the rest of my life is going to go? I'm never going look the same, my belly is saggy, my hair is grubby, I can't even eat a hot meal.
Baby blues, 3 days blues, you've probably heard about it. If you haven't, then it may come as a surprise. It's normal. It's hormonal. It won't last long, sometimes two days, sometimes two weeks. You will get through this, each day will get better.
Some things you can do to cope in the meanwhile:
1. Sit outside in the sun: The sun is amazing, the feeling of sun hot against your face can lift a low mood. Indirect sun is also helpful if your baby has slight jaundice.
2. Have a postnatal herbal bath: soothing, healing and relaxing, a herbal bath will help to boost your mood. Your baby may love to join you in the bath as well. This can make for a beautiful bonding and photo moment.
3. Enjoy your favorite cup of tea: a simple cup of tea is ideal for lifting spirits. Added benefit if the tea is herbal. This calm goddess tea is ideal for boosting moods, lemon balm is known to improve moods, with the added benefit of being caffeine free and safe for breastfeeding.
4. Talk to someone you trust: your mum, friend, sister, doula, whoever you feel comfortable talking to. Sometimes you just need to vent. A problem shared, is a problem halved.
Your partner has just gone back to work. The visitors have dwindled. You're suddenly home alone with this completely dependent little human. You've got to work out how you're going eat/shower/toilet/tidy whilst managing the needs of your newborn. Newborns sleep and feed alot (usually). Do what you can when you can. Try to shower before your partner leaves for work, or at very least get into some day clothes, brush your hair and clean your face. This is so you feel a little more human and atleast you've accomplished one thing that day.
Don't put any pressure on yourself to have a clean house. Nobody is going to judge the state of your house. A good friend will actually tidy for you.
Give yourself 3 tasks for the day. Mine were:
1. have a shower
2. keep the baby alive (ie feed the baby, ensure he's content)
3. eat something healthy.
Pretty simple, and so it should be. Take each day as it comes. Your "job" is to look after yourself and look after your baby. You need rest to heal, don't forget that. In some cultures, a woman must stay in bed with her baby for 40 days after giving birth. These cultures appreciate and value the importance of healing postnatally.
By six weeks, hopefully you're feeling ok. Things may start getting to some sort of normal. Breastfeeding hopefully is established, your loss should be almost finished and you may even be ready to leave the house.
This can bring up new emotions. Emotions of fear, anxiety and worry. For me, I was worried about my baby crying in public, having to feed him in public and how I would get him to sleep.
To overcome some of these concerns:
1. Go out with someone you feel comfortable with. Take your best friend, mum, or even doula out with you. That bit of company and security helped me immensely. Suddenly it wasn't so daunting knowing I had that extra bit of reassurance.
2. Go somewhere quiet and with baby facilities. Find a quiet park or little coffee shop. This is a nice way to dip your toes in the water. I don't recommend trying to go grocery shopping, alone, with your newborn as your first outing. ( I tried that, I ended up in tears in the middle of Coles because my newbie was screaming and I couldn't find the metamucil). Preferably a cafe with a change table (Learnt this the hard way. Poo explosion + no change table = disaster).
3. Baby wear! Baby wearing is a LIFE SAVER. Newborns just want to be close and held. Baby wearing allows them to do that, whilst you have your hands free. There are so many different ways to baby wear. Our Eco Babies have a fantastic range of carriers. Also, join a local baby wearing group for tips and tricks.
4. Join a new mums playgroup. Meeting with likeminded women going through the same stage as you will help you to feel better. You will realise you aren’t alone in this. All mums need their village.
What isn't normal (and when to seek help)
We've all heard of postnatal depression, but would you recognise the signs in yourself?
My personal experience with postnatal depression and anxiety started after the birth of my second son. His birth was traumatic, terrifying and dissapointing. It was nothing like I had wanted. Instead of the feelings of bliss, love and happiness, I was feeling dissapointed, angry and upset. I resented the birth, hoping it was a nightmare and I would wake up pregnant again.
I kept looking at my baby, but I didn't feel the overwhelming sense of love. I felt so guilty. Instead of focusing on my baby, I was reliving the trauma of the birth.
I remember having the "baby blues", on top of cracked nipples, and dealing with a toddler struggling to adjust to his newborn brother.
The difference was this time, the baby blues never seemed to lift.
Somehow, I managed fly under the radar of the home visit nurses. None of them asked how I was going emotionally. I wasn't asked to do the Edinburg test to screen for depression, despite having the risk factors.
My traumatic birth lead to a fear of Health Professionals, so I refused to see my GP for my 6 week check up. Instead I suffered alone, in silence like many of us do.
I had a feeling something was off, but my symptoms weren't the classical Postnatal depression symptoms that were outlined on websites and flyers.
Instead of crying and "acting depressed", I was extremely hostile, angry and anxious. My anxiety was about keeping the house tidy, I frantically tidied every day, leaving my baby to cry because I was so fixated.
I became addicted to chocolate/sugar. Eating so much every day, as it was the only thing that brought me a minute of happiness. I gained alot of weight and that further contributed to my feelings of inadequacy.
A friend came over one day, and I knew about her struggle with PND. So I asked her what it felt like for her. Her symptoms didn't sound anything like mine, but I still thought something wasn't right.
It took me until 7 months postpartum until I saw my Dr and admitted I needed help.
She prescribed medication, which I was ok with. I had tried wholistic methods (exercise, psychologist, group support, supplements) and nothing was helping.
Since seeing my GP, life has been so much better. My only regret was not getting help sooner.
It can feel so shameful to admit you're not loving every moment of being a mum. When it seems everyone else is so happy and coping so much better than you. You may regret having a baby. You may feel like a failure. You may feel like getting a diagnosis of postnatal depression is a cop out, and that there's something fundamentally wrong with you as a person.
The reality is, it's an illness. A chemical imbalance in our brain caused by hormones, just like high blood pressure is a hormonal imbalance. It's not an indication of the person you are. You are not a failure as a person. It's not something you did, or didn't do.
Please, if you feel "not right" or feel unusually down, withdrawn, angry, anxious, talk to someone. Hell, talk to me!
What other mum's have to say:
"Bertie's birth - completely amazing how connected I felt, and the sense of live was so overpowering, like a drug. I didn't even need sleep for the first few days.
This time, not so much. I'm convinced mode and more of the importance of a good birth for emotional as well as physical well-being." - Jemima
"Don't beat yourself up...I was so determined not to have an epidural (due to back problems), I ended up having a crappy labour and asked for one, but thankfully never got to get it in time. It never worried me until about day 6 or so and I cried in bed, an absolute sobbing mess bashing myself because I had asked for the epidural. Seems so insignificant now, but was a massive deal right there and then" - Karli
"Nobody told me that some mums don't get the instant rush of love, sometimes it takes longer to fall in love with your baby, sometimes your bond grows. And if your one of those mums it's very special and it's ok. "- Clancy
"Nobody told me how high the highs could be.. or how low the lows could be!
I had a great labour experience - induced, 9hrs labour and pushed for only 15mins. Small tear but overall a positive experience. And I was on top of the world. I doubted I could do it, so for 4 days I was on the highest of highs emotionally. But when those 4 day blues come.. I couldn't stop crying. The gravity of having this small human i was now responsible for overwhelmed me completely. I couldn't watch the news as every story brought me to tears or made me fear for the future my baby had. The day we were discharged I cried so much the paed told the midwives not to let me go. But they smiled and said 'she's fine, its totally normal'. The fear and tears for me lasted about 10 days... and then one day I found myself saying to hubby 'Hey, I didn't cry today!!'. " - Leah
"You will cry & that's ok." - Peta
Here are some more great resources:
Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE)