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Staying Home Instead

Fighting the Baby Blues

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 6, November-December 2000, pp. 212-214, 223

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I was so looking forward to having my baby and staying home with her. My sister and my friends have been so happy with their babies, and I wanted that happiness, too. Instead, ever since my baby has been born I've had the blues. Little frustrations seem so overwhelming. I want to be enjoying my daughter and instead I end up crying when she does. Being a mother seems harder to me than my former job as a corporate lawyer. My mother says it's just postpartum adjustment and things will get better. I hope she's right, but sometimes it's hard to believe things will ever change. How do other mothers make it through the baby blues?

Response

After I had my first child, my grandmother told me, "Being a mother is the hardest job in the world!" This statement made me feel better, but also worse. I started to think, "What did I get myself into by having a baby? This is seriously difficult." But now that some time has passed, I realize it was a time for me to grow and change into a better person - someone who is more patient and giving.

Things will get easier for you. The birth of a baby is a new job for you and it usually is more challenging than working outside the home! Try spending time with other mothers who understand what you are going through. Keep attending La Leche League meetings and get the support you need. I can't stress the importance of getting support enough! We weren't meant to do this alone. Also know that your baby will only be little for a short time and soon she will be older and not needing you so intensely. Embrace the challenges of motherhood because facing them helps you be the best person you can be.

Denise Evarts
New York NY USA

Response

After my wonderful son, Liam, was born, I felt sad, angry, panicked, frustrated, and overwhelmed all the time. I spent most of my time crying, snapping at my husband, or getting annoyed at little things. I felt as though I was drowning and there was no way out. I loved my baby so much and had looked forward to having him for so long. Why couldn't I just be happy?

First, know that you are not alone, and that this is not your fault. Then, try to identify what is happening. How long has this been going on? If it has just been a week or two, it may just be the baby blues which as many as 80 percent of women experience postpartum. (See sidebar) In this case, be sure to get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, eat healthful food (lots of small meals/snacks may be just right), and let the housework slide except for the essential duties. Reach out to your husband, family, and friends for help, and be sure to talk to others about how you are feeling. Even though it may not seem like it right now, the blues do go away. It's just that you have a lot to adjust to right away. Your body just went through major changes to deliver a baby and now it is experiencing many hormonal changes. And yes, being a mother is a tough job (but it is worth it!).

If it has been going on for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing postpartum depression, like I did. If this is the case, please call a doctor, whether it is an obstetrician, family doctor, or a psychiatrist. The sooner you get help, the easier it will be to treat your problem. You may need to take medication to get over your postpartum depression. If your doctor tells you that you have to wean your baby and be put on medication, call your LLL Leader. She can look up information that will help you and your doctor to decide the best course of action for you. I am still on medication (although now at a lower dose) and still nursing my 17-month-old son. Postpartum depression is a medical condition that is not your fault.

Ten percent of women experience postpartum depression. It is not something that women make up, nor is it women being weak. It happens to all kinds of women—lawyers and waitresses, young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, those with a history of depression, and those who have never had a moment of depression. You are not alone.

If you ever feel like you are going to hurt yourself or your baby, it is critical that you get professional help immediately! Call your doctor, 911, or check yourself into the hospital. Although such symptoms are rare, it is important information to have should the need arise.

No matter what, keep talking about it, tell your husband, your family, and your friends. Let them know how you feel, and what they can do to help. I dealt with my postpartum depression and the stress of being a new mother through medication, counseling, LLL, prayer, a postpartum depression support group, and the love and assistance of family and friends. You can too. Good luck!

Barbara Abbate
Lebanon NH USA

YOU'RE NOT ALONE

"Researchers often find widely varied answers when they poll new mothers about their feelings. Generally, however, it appears that from 50 to 80 percent of all new mothers experience some short-lived negative feelings that can be classified as the 'blues.' And probably 10 to 20 percent of new mothers have a more long-lasting and more upsetting bout of negative feelings. There are no exact figures; but postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and panic reactions likely fall in this range, with 10 to 20 new mothers out of every 100 experiencing some of these difficulties. Finally, only 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 new mothers actually experience what is called postpartum psychosis."

Dunnewold, A. and Sanford, C. Postpartum Survival Guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1994.


Response

As a psychiatrist who works with mothers, children, and adolescents, I have seen many women who feel sad and overwhelmed after the birth of a baby. Often, these feelings are transient and due to the hormonal changes, associated with pregnancy and birth. However, approximately 10 percent of mothers develop postpartum depression and many of these women are never diagnosed or treated.

Although only a health care professional can diagnose someone with postpartum depression, there are many signs that can let you know if it might be a good idea to seek help. These include: "blues symptoms" that last beyond the first month, severe anxiety or panic attacks, very deep sadness, worries that you might hurt your baby or yourself, or obsessive thoughts or mental images that you can't seem to stop.

The first thing any new mother can do to help with the tremendous adjustment is to seek social support. In addition to friends and relatives, you might seek out a group of stay-at-home mothers in your community, and consider them your new "professional organization." Many new mothers find that LLL introduces them to like-minded women who can support them in the adjustment to this new job. However, sometimes depression can make seeking support difficult or impossible. If increasing social contacts is not helpful, consider seeking professional help. You can see your health care provider to discuss the problem and seek referrals to a mental health provider. Many women respond to psychotherapy and it is often a good place to start. There are also support groups in some communities, some of which are run by Depression After Delivery, Inc., (800) 944-4PPD. Other women benefit from medication. There is much recent evidence that several antidepressants are compatible with breastfeeding. Information about medications and breastfeeding can be obtained from your physician, your child's pediatrician, a lactation consultant, or LLL.

The primary message I wish to convey is that there is hope that things will get better. For most women, this happens by itself with time and support. However, for the one woman in ten who has a clinical depression, there is also hope with treatment. In the long run, it is better to seek treatment for the sake of yourself and your baby than to worry about what others will think if you see a mental health professional.

Ellen Grosh
Plymouth MN USA

Response

I think I can relate to that "what-have-I-done!" feeling you seem to imply in your question. I felt overwhelmed and depressed after my child was born, too. Of course, I was thrilled and excited to stay home with my son. At the same time, my life had radically changed from being a busy career person with a second career as a classical singer to being a stay-at-home mother. I felt I'd lost my identity, my sense of who I was, and where I belonged in the larger scheme of things. It took me a good five months to get over the shock, to relax and allow myself to just "be" in the moment.

Often, when we're in the midst of change, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, I encourage you to hang in there. Your feelings will probably change when you've had more time to adjust. After a year of being a stay-at-home mother, I've only recently recognized the importance of what I set in motion with the birth of my child. It's okay to shift gears and go in a new direction. Remember that life is long and there will be lots of time to do many things!

Malya Muth
Gig Harbor WA USA

Response

I totally understand what you are going through: the baby blues happened to me before I left the hospital, not even two days after my precious daughter, Gabriela was born. At the hospital, I was told that my baby would probably not be able to get enough milk at my breast and that I would need to supplement breastfeeding with baby formula using a very interesting device called a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). Feeling I was unable to nourish my child with just my milk affected everything else. I felt overwhelmed by even basic baby care such as giving her a bath, changing her diapers, and even keeping track of how many wet diapers she had. I left the hospital sobbing desperately. Things did not get better at home.

How did I get my mind out of a huge depression? I kept in mind some very good advice I tried to follow. I had to take care of myself first to be able to be a good parent to my little one. I was very selective about which phone calls to accept. My answering machine was overflowing with the nicest messages, from very kind people that I had absolutely no desire to speak to. So I answered very few, and the majority heard from us a month later, when we were finally able to figure out the whole logistics of sending the baby announcements.

We took things in our own time and I am glad about it. There is no pressure for you to feel "good" immediately. Motherhood is a big change, and dealing with so many incredibly important responsibilities inside the home can be quite overwhelming.

My last piece of advice: try to go to your monthly LLL meetings. It is such a wonderful place to connect to other mothers and it could be a very good support group for you in this special phase of your and your baby's lives.

Hope things will get better soon!

Roberta Carvalho-Puzon
St. Paul MN USA

Last updated 11/16/06 by jlm.
Page last edited .


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