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Dealing with the baby blues

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Experts estimate that 50-90% of all new mothers experience a bout of mild depression right after the birth of their babies. (©iStockphoto.com/Kati Molin) Experts estimate that 50-90% of all new mothers experience a bout of mild depression right after the birth of their babies. (©iStockphoto.com/Kati Molin)


By Julianne Deveraux
 

The days and weeks immediately following the birth of your baby can be an emotional roller-coaster. You can expect to experience elation, wonder, anxiety, and -- if you are like most new moms -- at least a touch of the blues.

Experts estimate that between 50 and 90 percent of all new mothers experience a bout of mild depression right after the birth of their babies. So if you've found yourself feeling weepy, sad, or irritable for no apparent reason, don't be hard on yourself. You have lots of company.

What causes the blues

The mild depression that affects women soon after giving birth is often referred to as "the baby blues," and while no one is sure exactly why it happens, there are several likely theories:

  • Hormones: After baby is born, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in mom's body drop sharply, causing a deficit that can lead to the blues. As hormone levels return to their normal, pre-pregnancy levels, spirits tend to rise as well.

  • Physical discomfort: It takes a while to recover from childbirth, and pain from an episiotomy, hemorrhoids, or adjusting to breast-feeding can make new moms cranky.

  • Sleep deprivation/exhaustion: When the hard work of childbirth is followed by staying up late at night to care for your newborn, it's hard to recoup your sleep losses. It doesn't take long for sleep deprivation to have a negative effect on mood.

  • Psychological discomfort: For first-time moms, living with a new baby is a new and daunting experience. The day-to-day realities of caring for your infant may feel anticlimactic or overwhelming after 9 months of being the center of attention. If you're feeling a little disappointed by the experience, that disappointment may be compounded by a sense of guilt or inadequacy.

Beating the blues

For most new mothers, the "baby blues" is caused by a combination of these factors, and most find that the blues ease as their bodies return to normal and they become more comfortable living with baby. To make the transition easier, here are some steps you can take to relieve the stresses that contribute to the blues:

  • Cut yourself some slack: Don't worry about the housework, the laundry, or writing thank-you notes for shower gifts. Those things can wait. Take each day as it comes and just do the best you can.

  • Ask for (and accept) help: When you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, reach out to the people you love for support. When friends offer to help, let them! After all, every minute that someone else vacuums the floor or does the dishes gives you an extra minute to be with your baby or get some much-needed rest.

  • Take care of yourself: Make your own needs a priority as much as possible. Eat well, rest as much as you can, and gradually resume your old physical activities, even if it's just a walk around the neighborhood every afternoon. Try to carve out time that is just for you -- whether it's lunch with a friend or a long hot bath.

  • Sleep: This may seem easier said than done, but sleep is crucial to your emotional and physical health. Don't worry about sleeping "normal" hours -- nap whenever your baby naps. The rest will do you both a world of good.

If the blues linger

Baby blues typically start soon after giving birth and generally last only a week or so (although it may feel longer!). If the blues linger for more than a week or two, it could mean the beginning of a more serious condition called postpartum depression (PPD). Although relatively rare, PPD can be devastating.

Treatment is available, so if you suspect you are suffering from this disorder it is important to see your doctor and find out your treatment options. Dads suffer from the baby blues, too -- often because they feel left out. The key is to get Dad involved right from the start so you both can delight in baby's ways.

Julianne Deveraux travels frequently between Atlanta and Boston as a freelance writer and Your Baby Today contributor.

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