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10 Tips for Preventing Postpartum Depression

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Updated October 17, 2012

After giving birth, about 30% to 80% of women will experience "baby blues," feeling mild depression, weepiness, irritability, fatigue and moodiness. These mood changes occur in response to the hormonal changes that follow childbirth and rapidly resolve within hours or days.

About 10% of women, though, will go through postpartum major depression (PMD), experiencing more severe, lasting symptoms. Good self-care and support from family and friends can help many women, although others will require treatment with medication and/or therapy.

Steps you can take to prevent postpartum depression include:

1. Carve Out Some 'Me Time'

When you're a new mom, it's very easy to become completely focused on the needs of your new baby and forget that you still have your own needs. It's important to set aside time for yourself, even if it's just a few quiet moments alone in the bathroom attending to your personal grooming. You'll feel better for it, and when you feel better, your baby will benefit from it too.

2. Make Time for Your Partner

With all the excitement and added responsibilities that come with a new baby, it's easy for parents to lose touch with each other. Even though you are now a family, remember it was your love for your spouse or significant other that brought your child into being. Nurture your relationship just like you nurture your baby. Your partner can be a big support to you, both in caring for the baby and caring for your own emotional needs.

3. Eat Well

It goes without saying that if you are breastfeeding you should eat well, but even if you aren't breastfeeding, you should feed yourself well. Nutritional deficiencies can cause depression symptoms and make you too tired to properly care for yourself and the baby.

4. Get Plenty of Omega-3s

Studies have shown a link between postpartum depression and a dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, an open trial over an 8-week period showed significant improvement in depression in postpartum women who took omega-3 supplements.

Although omega-3 fatty acids may be obtained by eating fatty fish - such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon - pregnant women should take fish oil supplements instead. Fish are likely to contain contaminants - like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls - which are harmful to the developing fetus. Studies indicate that fish oil supplements are much less likely to contain these toxic substances, due to the purification that occurs during the manufacturing process.

5. Sleep as Much as Possible

When your baby requires frequent feedings, it can be difficult to get the rest you need. If you are tired, however, it's only natural that you are going to feel irritable and depressed. It is very important that you sleep whenever and as long as possible. Take naps when the baby is sleeping, and allow other family members to take over feeding duties, so you can get several hours of uninterrupted sleep. Breastfeeding? Pump milk ahead of time, so it's available for occasional bottle feedings.

6. Exercise

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression in the general population. Studies looking specifically at exercise as a treatment for postpartum depression are few, but the results have been promising. Two small randomized controlled trials conducted in Australia, which looked at group stroller walking, found exercise to be a useful adjunct to treatment. In addition, uncontrolled studies and observational evidence suggest that women with postpartum depression can benefit from exercise.

7. Ask for Help from Your Friends and Family

Not surprisingly, in cultures where it's expected that family members will pitch in and help, leaving the Mother free to rest and feed the baby, postpartum depression is almost unheard of. If you are fortunate enough to have friends and family offering help, relax and allow them to help.

8. Seek Out Support from Other Moms

Other mothers can be your best allies when you have a new baby. Not only do they understand exactly what you are feeling, they may have tips and tricks to share for making motherhood more manageable.

9. Be Realistic in Your Expectations

When you see supermom Angelina Jolie successfully juggling a thriving career, philanthropic work and a growing brood of children, you may feel just a little guilty that you are struggling to balance the addition of just one child to your family. Keep in mind, however, that Angie has a team of nannies to help her. You're just one person, and it's only natural that you may feel a bit overwhelmed with the addition of a new baby. Keeping your expectations realistic about what you can and should do will allow you to enjoy your new addition, instead of fretting over your perceived shortcomings.

10. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Professional Help

If self-help measures are not helping and you find yourself experiencing more severe symptoms — such as a lack of interest in your child, suicidal or homicidal feelings, hallucinations or psychotic behavior — do not be afraid to ask for professional help. Postpartum depression is a biologically based illness, not a sign that you are weak or a bad mother, and it can be effectively treated with medications and therapy.

Also, if you have a history of depression, consult your physician about the possibility of taking medication as a preventive measure before you become depressed.

Sources:

Daley, Amanda J. et. al. "The Role of Exercise in Treating Postpartum Depression: A Review of the Literature." J Midwifery Womens Health. 52.1(2007):56-62.

Freeman MP, et. al."Randomized dose-ranging pilot trial of omega-3 fatty acids for postpartum depression." Acta Psychiatr Scand. 113 (2006): 31-35.

Jacobson, James L. and Alan M. Jacobson. Psychiatric Secrets. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Hanley & Belfus, 2001.

Rakel, Robert E. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2007.

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