Having a baby is a life-changing experience. The range of emotions that a new mom feels from day to day includes joy, fear, sadness, excitement, anxiety, etc. While this emotional journey is normal thanks to the combination of hormone changes and limited sleep, moms who are experiencing ongoing feelings of sadness, depression, and loneliness can be at risk for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is experienced by 1 in 8 women in the US, occurring after the baby is born. It is a mental health condition where the feelings continue for weeks after your baby comes (not just in the first few days as hormone levels are adjusting).
But depression can start during pregnancy too.
Depression during pregnancy, or perinatal depression, can be triggered by everyday life stressors such as balancing work and family and juggling finances. Taking steps to build a support circle and to support their mental health—before your baby comes—is essential for moms-to-be. The third trimester can be a great time to not only prepare your home but to prepare yourself emotionally. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you countdown to baby.
Know your risks.
Prevention is the best path to success. If you are aware of the risks and symptoms of depression during and after pregnancy, you can better avoid or more quickly treat it. Having a family history of depression (or a history of depression yourself), having an unplanned or difficult pregnancy or birth, experiencing challenges with a partner, or having limited support at home can increase the risk for perinatal or postpartum depression. While these can be difficult conversations to have with your doctor, it can be a weight off your chest to share what you are worried about as you plan for your new baby. He or she can then help you connect to the resources you need.
Build connections now.
Besides your partner or other close friends or family members, build your mom circle. Ask about groups for new (or experienced moms) in your area affiliated with your hospital, church, or local community center. Online support is also an option. Keep in mind that every mom’s experience and circumstances are unique. What works for a friend and her family might not work for you and your family. Always consult your health care team (your doctor, pediatrician, lactation consultant, etc.) with questions or concerns about you and your baby. Knowing who will help you after your baby comes can help set your mind at ease.
Make “me time” a priority.
When your baby comes, your time quickly becomes the baby’s time. Babies are demanding, especially in the first few weeks and months. To be the best mom you can be, you need time for you too. Whether you get outside and be active, curl up with a favorite book or movie, take a nap, drive, or whatever helps you relax, you need time for yourself that is not just a rare treat or special occasion. It needs to be part of the routine. Working that time into schedules with your partner and support team can help you keep your stress and anxiety at bay.
Rest now, while you can!
In the last month or two before your baby comes, you might go into panic mode and start running around to get all the things you think you need. But, besides a car seat to take your baby home, a safe place for baby to sleep, the supplies you need for breastfeeding or other infant feeding methods, clothes, and diapers, everything else can wait (or be ordered online!). This is an excellent time to sit back, put your feet up, and binge-watch a new show. If you have other kids, take time to snuggle with them before experiencing the life-altering change of a new brother or sister.
Plan, but be okay to change it.
Whether it is your labor and delivery plan, your infant feeding plan, your childcare plan, or any plan, know that life can throw roadblocks your way, and you need to be ready to adapt. Sometimes it is the roadblocks that can impact your mental health. When you know that things can happen out of your control, you build your resiliency (ability to more quickly bounce back) and are more able to savor the moments where you do have control. Planning is important. While having a stocked freezer before your baby comes will come in handy, for everything else, have ideas in mind, ask questions of your health care team, and most importantly, voice your concerns and ask for help. You will feel better for it!