It was five days after Eoin was born. I developed mastitis. Before I knew it I was in the hospital being treated by intravenous antibiotics. I was told that I could no longer breastfeed my son. I was worried that he would be sent home, while I remained in the hospital for treatment. I felt alone as my other son and husband had to remain home as they too were sick, and there was a fear that their illness would spread on the maternity ward. Ever so quickly I was being seen by a slew of medical professionals – obstetrician, my midwife, infectious disease specialist. Despite my own declining health, all of my concerns were around the health of my newborn son. But I felt unfit to mother him, as I was so sick and weak. Then I found myself to be unconsolably crying. I found a supportive nurse who helped me through the pain to allow me to continue to breastfeed. One feat down. But I still couldn’t stop crying. It scared me. As I was an inpatient in the hospital, I was given access to a psychiatrist. We began talking. I knew then I would have help. I found hope.
Ahh, Motherhood. Best and most difficult job in the world.
The more we talk about the tough times, we begin to normalize all aspects of motherhood. We will begin to see that even caring for these precious newborns doesn’t always equate with bliss and joy.
Postpartum depression can be different for each mom. Depression can start in pregnancy or even begin months after your baby is born. Some women may have mild symptoms – “the baby blues” – as hormones are shifting after baby is born. Other women can predominantly experience anxiety. Compounded on the hormone shifts is the sleep deprivation and the continual needs of a newborn.
Keep safe. Deep down I knew this. On an airplane we are taught to put oxygen masks on ourselves first, prior to helping others. Babies are demanding. Sleep deprivation is synonymous with the newborn period. Lack of sleep can ever so easily affect our decision making and mental status. If you need emergency support, call the nurses’ hotline – 8-1-1.
Seek Help. Us mothers are seen as superwoman. And we are. Reaching out for help doesn’t undermine us or make us unfit to mother. I believe our children choose us — to help them with what they need to learn in this life. Trust your instincts.
Contact your doctor or midwife. There are even simple blood tests that are routine in the postpartum period that can explain depression. These are thyroid function, anemia, and progesterone levels. If you are not getting the help that you need, keep searching. I have listed some Community Resources at the end of this article.
Get help at home. Talk with other moms. Keep talking. Reduce household demands. Have friends & family start a meal train with healthy foods, ready to eat. Your most important job right now is to take care of yourself – remember that oxygen mask needs to go on you first – and your baby – then to the rest of the family. Be careful not to push through these feelings.
Essential fatty acids. Brain food. If you are breastfeeding, ever more important to load up on fish oils, as the hind part of your milk is high in fat content — leaving your brain starving for these essential fats. Studies have shown that women low in EPA and DHA are more likely to develop postpartum depression.
Vitamin D. Keep your Vitamin D levels optimal throughout pregnancy and well into the postpartum period. Vitamin D deficiency in the postpartum period is linked to depression and anxiety.
B vitamins. These vitamins nourish the nervous system. B vitamins help us to cope under times of stress. Vitamin B6 helps in the production of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters. Yet all B vitamins play a role in mental health.
Remember that postpartum depression can happen to anyone. Experiencing sadness or anxiety is common. There is help and hope available.
8-1-1 at HealthLink BC — free service, 24 hours per day, connect with a nurse
Interior Crisis Line: 1-888-353-CARE (2273) – also 24 hours per day, free service for crisis intervention
Anxiety BC for Mothers http://perinatal.anxietybc.com/
Pacific Postpartum Support Society www.postpartum.org or 1-855-255-7999
Freeman MP, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and supportive psychotherapy for perinatal depression: A randomized placebo-controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2008;110:142–8.
Fu, CW, et al. Association between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels measured 24 hours after deliver and postpartum depression. BHOG. 2015 Nov; 122(12): 1688-94.