In the initial hours (and even days) after giving birth, you’ll probably be feeling pretty overwhelmed, and in a state of awe, shock, elation, depletion and exhaustion. Many women talk about floating through this time in a haze, and sometimes this means it can take longer than you’d expect to connect and bond with your baby. Feeling sad or disconnected is completely understandable and normal. Be patient with yourself: you’ve just gone through a life-changing experience that is both physically and mentally taxing. It can take time to adjust.
The good news is your body naturally makes a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the love hormone”— it’s released during childbirth, breastfeeding and sex! Along with its many other purposes, oxytocin helps your uterus contract during and post birth, helps bring your milk in when your baby begins to suckle, and encourages connection and bonding between you and your baby.
If you feel anxious or overwhelmed, or experience teariness and mood swings after giving birth, know that you are not alone. Mothers (and fathers!) all over the world feel stuck, sad, and unsure about being a parent. You might feel particularly weepy, and as the fear of the unknown sets in you may find yourself thinking, What has happened to my life? According to the March of Dimes, up to 80 percent of mothers suffer some form of baby blues.1 Having mild ups and downs for a couple of days or a couple of weeks comes with the territory.
Hormonal dips and shifts are the biggest contributor to these feelings. Your levels of estrogen and progesterone rapidly drop after delivery, and these fluctuating hormones, combined with a lack of sleep, can really make things tough. You may feel like you’re on a rollercoaster: high one minute and low the next. Many women report feeling particularly down on day three. Your feelings should start to regulate after a week or so, but if these oscillating emotions start feeling worse instead of better, and continue past two weeks, you may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety.
Research tells us that having a baby is one of the most profound biological experiences a person can have, and one that radically affects your brain. A study published in 2016 states that pregnancy causes long-lasting changes in the human brain structure, particularly losses of the gray matter in the hippocampus, the area of our brain that’s responsible for memory function, learning and emotions. This study provides an insight into why we feel a bit off, foggy, scattered, and forgetful during pregnancy and postpartum: our gray matter may not be fully restored until up to two years postpartum — sometimes even longer.
If you’re having feelings that overwhelm you, are having mood swings or panic attacks, or you just feel emotionally fragile, it’s important to communicate that. Confide in your partner, midwife, good friend or any other trusted person to help you through. You could also try a natural approach to see if you notice a change in your moods. Here are a few ideas.
Take herbs that help boost serotonin levels in your brain and tackle anxiety. We love supportive herbs such as St. John’s wort, lemon balm, passionflower, and hops tea. Please ask your doctor before having herbs while breastfeeding or taking any other medications.
Meditation. Studies have shown that meditation in the form of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can be highly beneficial in treating depression.
Get moving. Exercise releases the feel-good hormones in your brain.
Vitamin D. Standing out in the sunshine triggers positive emotions in your brain.
Omega-3s. Eat some fatty salmon or avocados. Omega-3s are directly related to proper brain function.
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When Your Lows Feel Too Low
If your sadness feels really intense and it’s lasting longer than two weeks, it’s time to reach out to your healthcare professional or a therapist. Perinatal anxiety and depression can occur at any point from pregnancy throughout the first year postpartum and for a multitude of reasons. There is also a lot of overlap between the two. For example, at five or six months your little one is being introduced to solid food and sleeping longer stretches of time at night. Both of these changes to your baby’s habits cause your milk level to dip, which is a common reason for your hormones to be affected.
You may feel very alone, but the truth is, you’re not—postpartum depression affects at least one in seven mothers, and postpartum anxiety affects one in five. Partners can be affected too. Although often less highlighted, approximately 5 to 10 percent of US fathers suffer with postpartum depression after the birth of their baby. A national helpline is available for those in need of support: 800.273.TALK.
There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel
There are many ways to treat postnatal depression and anxiety, and it’s important to remember that this too shall pass. Both are usually temporary — you won’t always feel this heavy.
Talk to your health-care provider to come up with a treatment plan. If you think you may be experiencing postpartum depression, you can also call the Postpartum Support International hotline at 800.944.4773 or text 503.894.9453 (for English) or 971.420.0294 (for Español).
The above is an excerpt from The Zen Mama Guide to Finding Your Rhythm in Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond, available online and in stores now. You can also find more Your Zen Mama on Instagram (@YourZenMama) and via their vlog.
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