Preventing Postpartum depression

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I know the feeling. You are tired. I mean REALLY tired. Not the kind of tired you felt after having a late night in your teens. If you don’t have children and you think you are tired. Trust me – you are NOT tired.

But the kind of tired that suffocates you. It’s suffocating because you can’t see the end in sight. It makes your hands shake and your body want to shut down. You’re not just sleepy, you are weary. Fatigued. Brain dead.

All the things that you must do are overwhelming you. You feel guilty and your gut wrenches with anxiety as you think of all the things you are behind in. The party you just couldn’t make it to because leaving the house seemed like such a feat. All the people you are letting down. The gifts for extended family members you needed to send 4 weeks ago. The health check for one of your children that is way overdue. The bills. The mess. The house. The dirt. The mess. The washing. The baby upchuck that you still haven’t cleaned off the couch from a few days ago. It’s bad. It stinks.

I get it. After I had my fourth baby I used to stay up late because I didn’t want the next day to come. I would then cry myself to sleep not knowing how in the world I would get my sleep deprived self up the next day and do it all over again.

But things did get better. Thank God, and my mood slowly improved.

Before I go on I want to say to you

“Just because you have had a stinking bad day doesn’t mean that you have a bad life”

Really, it’s going to get better. Everything will be okay

I would say that over the course of the last several years of having pregnancies and my five babies I have had postpartum depression twice. After my second baby and after my fourth. I have also experienced depression and anxiety throughout 2 of my pregnancies. Both times was quite severe and led me to need to speak to doctors and counsellors.  I even spent some time in hospital while pregnant with my fourth baby recovering from severe anxiety and depression. I couldn’t even get my children lunch without my hands shaking and knees collapsing and having to go retreat to my bedroom to lie down for some time. I have learnt some things about myself now and have learnt to recognise the early signs of postpartum depression. If I pick up on the signs and commit to making a change I can feel almost 100% better within a day. And the feelings of low mood go away. I have, by the grace of God, not suffered from postpartum depression this time by watching for warning signs, and kicking them out before my mood spirals out of control. I have been able to stay positive and look at situations that arise calmly and rationally without becoming overwhelmed.

My baby Willow is now almost 9 months old. Postpartum depression can sneak up not just in the exhausting newborn period but also anytime in you baby’s first couple of years. Or any time in life, really. Being a mum can be tough even at the best of times. That’s why having feelings of deep joy, fulfilment and peace are such an important part of mothering. The deep joy we feel will get us through our days with thankfulness and peace. We will serve and love our families with a sense of fulfilment and with a smile on our face. We will live life intentionally and with motivation. Depression is an illness and can take time to get better, so for me, it’s worth keeping up with some healthy habits to help keep it away.

I understand that depression can be a complex issue at times and can be caused by a whole heap of issues combined. Maybe relationship troubles, money troubles, grieving for a loved one, past issues, or hormonal imbalances have triggered the depression. Some of these things we can’t prevent. If this is the case then speaking to a professional is a really good idea for you to work through these issues in your life. So you can walk in freedom without a heavy weight upon your shoulders.

When you are pregnant or after your baby is born, and you are prone to depression,  I encourage you to note down some warning signs and behaviours you notice in yourself. If you have been feeling low take note of what has changed since before these negative feelings came. Have some negative habits and thought patterns begun to develop? When I notice my mood getting low and negative thoughts hitting me I stop and ask myself these questions. Some of them seem so simple, but they really make a huge difference to my life.

  1. Have I been taking my daily walk/bike ride?

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I have a half hour slot on my schedule that I use to exercise. Getting out in the fresh air for a walk or bike ride is a life saver for me. The sunlight and fresh air clears my head and soothes my soul and is a very important part of keeping my mood stable. Often when my days get busy and I have to be out and about with children’s appointments I might miss my time outdoors exercising. Sometimes all it takes is a few days of getting out for my walk and I’m feeling much better.

2. Have I been spending time in prayer and reading God’s word?

Bible Journal

The Lord is my strength and He is the one I am living for. So it makes sense that when I spend daily time in prayer I feel at peace in my soul. I notice that I go about my days with confidence and can handle stressful situations and crying children much more calmly when I have spent time in prayer in the morning committing my day to the Lord.

I silently pray in my heart all day long, but I also have two times in my day that are reserved for prayer and reading the Bible. After lunch when myself and the children have quiet time. They quietly play with a toy on their own or read and the baby and 2-year-old nap and I use this time to pray and read God’s word. And more recently (because I am feeding Willow less at night and sleeping better now) first thing in the morning before the children wake up. I set my alarm and sit in the lounge in the early hours praying to the Lord quietly while the house is still silent.

When I don’t focus on the Lord I become grumpy, short-tempered and think of worldly things, which causes negative feelings to arise in me – which can push me towards depression. So daily time with the Lord is my lifeline. He is my lifeline.

3. Have I been having deep and heartfelt conversations with people I love and trust?

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When I’m feeling down I can lose the motivation to go out and can begin to isolate myself. This is the opposite that I should be doing! I have learnt that I run best with seeing friends other than my husband at least one or twice a week. When the kids are sick etc and I can’t make it to church a few Sunday’s in a row I notice a decline in my mood. So I make sure now, that I get out and about during the week and see some people or invite a family over. I’m a social person and need regular contact with the ‘outside world’ outside the home to keep me feeling peaceful.

4. Have I been eating with mindfulness?

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What I eat can affect my mood too. If I eat too much sugary food I find that it really affects me and the next day or so I can feel lethargic, depressed and have zero motivation until the sugar is out of my system. Making sure I am eating healthy foods and not overeating keeps me feeling good. Over eating and weight gain can be a source of stress for me and can lead to sad feelings. Having a daily plan of what I’m going to eat and sticking with it the best I can keeps me feeling good.

5. Have I been spending too much time on social media, or internet? Or reading magazines? Bad habits can creep up when I’m tired; if I notice that I have been spending a lot more time on social media or lounging around a lot I try to change quickly. Did you know that too much time spent checking and scrolling through social media can cause us to feel depressed? I know this is true for me. I can be having a good day but then begin looking at facebook and see pictures of people doing stuff that looks exciting and think that I’m missing out. Or that everyone is up to something and I’m not. Or I don’t have what that person has. And I really don’t look as neat as that person…I haven’t even brushed my hair. Or my children aren’t behaving like that persons is. Or I accidentally see a photo of someone from the past that I was hoping to never be reminded of again. Seriously. Am I the only one who gets like this sometimes after checking social media? After all, isn’t that why people put things on facebook to begin with…to boast? If not to boast then to moan about something or someone?

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Anyway. I have noticed that too much facebook is not good for my mental health. Over the years I have put some serious restrictions on my facebook usage and deleted it for a time too. I now do not check it at all until the evening after the children are in bed. I do not have the internet on my phone and I have made a deal with myself to NEVER check facebook in the morning. I don’t always stick to it, but when I do I notice a world of difference to my mood throughout the day. If you are prone to depression and notice you are on social media alot – ask yourself; How do I feel after checking facebook? Is it benefitting my day? Are there restrictions I can put in place for myself to spend less time on it and more time in the real world? It’s worth giving it a go.

6. Do I have a plan or schedule for my days to give me direction? Something that prevents depression and low motivation is to schedule my days at home. With a schedule I feel productive and like I have a good plan for my day. One year a few weeks after Christmas I was feeling really foggy. I had been out of my usual routine for a while over the holiday period and noticed that I was lazing around a lot and losing motivation to do anything at all. I started to feel a little depressed for a couple of days. After praying about it I realised that my days had no direction and were rather aimless and the low productivity was causing my low mood. I wrote a morning routine for myself to follow and stuck it up in the kitchen where I could see it because I was so sluggish in the mornings. I then planned out my day and aimed to work on a particular project – like decluttering, for 30 minutes every day for the rest of the holidays. A few days later I was feeling motivated again and the low mood lifted because I felt productive.

7. Have I been getting enough sleep? This is a tough one because new mums usually don’t get enough sleep. Even mums with older children wont get enough sleep if they have a particularly wakeful child. There are times during the newborn baby period when I just have to sleep when I can and go into survival mode. But when my babies get older I have to be careful to not get into some bad habits.

– staying up late and sleeping in regularly causes depression for me.

I don’t know why exactly this happens but I do know that when I sleep in too late I am awakened by children who may have been tearing up the house while I was snoozing. I wake up having no time to pray and have to leap out my bed feeling already behind in everything. I feel really groggy and am usually NOT in a good mood. Staying up too late can cause the sleeping in. So a good happy morning begins the night before. If I make sure I go to bed at a good time – never later than 10pm (though that time may be different for you) I usually feel so much better the next day, even if I’ve been woken during the night. Then I make sure I set my alarm to rise at a good time.

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These days I set my alarm to wake before the children wake up so I can pray  and exercise before Luke goes to work. I feel in charge of my day and this keeps me feeling positive. I don’t always make it out of bed when my alarm goes off if I’ve been woken by the children in the middle of the night. But I just try again the next morning. It’s all about setting up good, healthy habits and not about getting upset when things don’t go as planned.

This was a long post! Well done for making it to the end! Lets set ourselves up with good, positive habits that will keep us smiling through those early years,and beyond, of motherhood. God bless you as you press on.

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Me and Willow

*please note: If you are already suffering from depression please don’t suffer alone. It’s okay to seek outside help from a pastor, doctor or counsellor. If your depression is severe please don’t wait. Make an appointment to see someone as soon as possible. This post is about how I have done my best to prevent postpartum depression based on my own past experiences and is not meant to be medical advice. I pray you can have a happy and stable postpartum time with your baby and older children and you can enjoy this blessed, yet often exhausting time.

Blessings, Peta

 

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