New-mom Blues Not Uncommon And Manageable
Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sat, Jan. 23, 2005
By Cynthia Savage, M.D.
Recently, I gave birth to my second child, which awakened emotions from my first pregnancy and those that I've seen in the new mothers in my family medical practice. Being a new mother is wonderful, but it can also be exhausting, frustrating and a psychological roller coaster.
Between 40 percent and 80 percent of women will have rapid mood swings in the first few weeks after giving birth. A new mother may go from beaming with joy to crying for no apparent reason, then from yelling at her husband to calmly feeding her new baby - all in the span of 10 minutes.
For most, these dramatic mood swings are temporary, and the appropriate treatment is patience, calm reassurance from friends and family, and rest. But, sometimes, new motherfood can be overwhelming and frightening. And postpartum depression can be dangerous.
If a new mother's "baby blues" develop into anger or persistent sadness, she may need professional help.
Worrisome signs are prolonged sadness, refusal or inability to care for herself or her baby, unusual anger, talking about violent acts or refusal to talk to or be with other adults.
For most new mothers, though, thinking about what to expect can help her enjoy the pleasure of motherhood and avoid or address the problems. My survival tips for a new mom's emotional challenges are Care, Connect and Capture.
New moms need to take care of themselves, so they are emotionally and physically strong enough to care for their newborns. Mom usually can't eat or sleep when she wants; only if and when her newborn lets her.
And this deprivation of sleep and food decreases a mom's patience and her ability to plan ahead, and can increase her chances of having postpartum depression. Housekeeping standards may have to be relaxed while everyone adjusts. A nap may be more important to be a mom's health and well-being than clean clothes and dishes.
Let friends bring dinner over, use paper plates, and thank grandma for folding the towels. Drinking milk and eating a balanced diet also are important for most new mothers, especially if breast-feeding.
Getting out of the house for a calm walk, to socialize with friends or to shop can improve a new mother's sense of well-being. Let Dad or a trusted relative stay home with the baby for a couple of hours every few days. When mom is happy, baby and everyone else at home are much more likely to be happy.
Meeting with other new mothers and adults provides mental stimulation and reassurance. Staying home with a new infant can be a lonely experience, and isolation can lead to depression. First-time moms often benefit from joining a mom's group. Ask your doctor or midwife for information.
Doing these activities two or three times a week provides structure in a mom's day and reassurance that she isn't the only one having sleepless nights and difficulty consoling that colicky baby.
Time with a newborn is brief (though the sleepless nights and a chaotic schedule may seem endless), so make sure to take pictures and write down those memorable moments. Setting aside time to record the precious moments can increase your awareness of the joys of new motherhood.
Dr. Savage practices family medicine at the Bay Point Wellness Center. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.