Depression Is Not Your Fault
The first thing to know is that postpartum depression (and all the other Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders) is treatable. Your symptoms may feel paralyzing to you now, but they are temporary and you will feel better again.
You may also be struggling with feelings of shame about your depression, or beating yourself up for not being able to “hold it all together.” Know that depression is not a character flaw and it is not your fault.
Treating Postpartum Depression
There are multiple ways to treat postpartum depression. Some women with mild to moderate symptoms are able to feel better on medication alone, while others can be treated with counseling alone. Yet, others find that a combination of medication and counseling will best meet their treatment needs, which research has shown is the best line of treatment.
When you are weighing the various treatment methods, know that there is more than one way to feel better.
Think of your brain as an organ just as you would your heart or kidney. When depression is present it shows up as dysregulation (or an imbalance in your brain). Medication, such as an antidepressant, works with your brain’s chemistry to regulate things again.
Medication isn’t a magical pill, rather it’s more like a tool. Similar to how we use medication to manage heart disease or diabetes, these “tools” can activate healing within the brain for those suffering with depression.
It’s understandable that you may be feeling uncertain about using medication to manage your depression, especially with concerns about breastfeeding. And while some medications are not safe to take while breastfeeding, some have been shown to be safe.
Often, the first place women go for medication is their obgyn. And while that’s a great first step, finding a doctor or psychiatrist who specializes in prescribing medication for managing postpartum depression (as well as prenatal and maternal depression) can be beneficial.
Above all else, it’s important to have a careful discussion with your doctor in which you can openly discuss your symptoms, your needs, and any fears you may have related to taking medication.
I have experience sitting on both couches (as a counselor and a counseling participant) and I can say from experience that counseling helps and works. When it comes to postpartum depression, counseling (or psychotherapy – another name for it) has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms for women during the postpartum period.
Your counselor can provide a safe and nurturing place to identify and discuss your postpartum depression and help you initiate the move towards feeling better.
Also, you may find yourself stuck and unsure about what you need to feel better. With the help of your counselor, you can evaluate what may be keeping you stuck or from feeling your best.
The overarching goals of counseling for postpartum moms is to provide support while helping you find emotional balance, gain insight, cope with the overwhelming stress of being a mom, and build a healthier perspective about your expectations.
Alternative Treatment Methods
Complementary and alternative methods (or known as CAMs) are non-medical approaches to depression treatment and can be used as a single intervention if your postpartum depression symptoms are mild enough. Or, for most women, they are used as a supplemental method to enhance their postpartum depression treatment plan.
Women may be compelled to try alternative treatment methods for a number of reasons: not wanting to deal with the possibility of medication side effects, valuing a holistic approach, or feeling a sense of empowerment by not using medication. Regardless of the reason, work with your doctor and counselor on finding the treatment that is best for you.
We often think of yoga as stretching, but the foundation of yoga is the focus on the breath. While engaging in the yoga postures, it is the breath that serves as the guide for your movement.
The deep breathing associated with yoga can help regulate the hormonal imbalances experienced during the postpartum period.
The exhaustion and stress related to being a new mother can overwhelm your central nervous system (the part of your body responsible for coping with stressful situations). So, by slowing down and regulating your breath, such as with yoga, your body has a chance to switch over from your worn out central nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for rest/relaxation and digestion).
Additionally, being a new mother means dealing with post-baby body changes. Yoga provides a gentle way to get moving again and connect with your new mom body.
It is well-documented that regular exercise improves mental health. So, when it comes to postpartum depression, exercise is also considered an important part of treatment.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week, if no medical complications exist. Moderate exercise or activity includes going for a brisk walk, bike riding, water aerobics, shoveling light snow, gardening, or raking leaves.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered good fatty acids that our bodies need. Like other nutrients we find in our food, most Omega-3s are found in fish, such as salmon or tuna, and some plant and nut oils.
You may be asking what do Omega-3s have to do with depression? Well, Omega-3s play an important role in brain function and development and since depression is triggered by a chemical imbalance within the brain, a correlation may exist.
Research by Dr. Marlene Freeman, a top researcher on the role Omega-3s play in treating perinatal depression, suggests that Omega-3s can have a mild impact on mood. However, larger studies are needed before we can accept Omega-3s as an effective treatment for perinatal and postpartum depression.
Light therapy can be received through a light therapy/phototherapy box, or even using natural sunlight. Light therapy boxes, mimic sunlight, and are believed to help boost your mood by causing a chemical change in your brain.
Natural sunlight triggers your body to produce vitamin D, which can help to improve your mood and satisfaction.
When using light therapy as a treatment method, it is recommended to use the light therapy box or sit in sunlight for 30-60 minutes daily.