Coping With Postpartum Depression

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While nobody wants to be deal with postpartum depression, receiving a diagnosis can actually be a welcome relief in some ways. Now that you and your medical team have identified the problem, you know what needs to be done and can begin treatment.

These days, there are so many resources out there to help moms who are struggling with a postpartum mood disorder—from therapists, psychiatrists, medications, and support groups. So you are well on your way toward feeling better and more like yourself again. 

Still, the day-to-day life of a mom caring for a young child (or several!) can be a struggle, and living with postpartum depression only makes it harder. That’s why no treatment plan would be complete without tips for how to cope with postpartum depression on a daily basis, and what lifestyle changes may be necessary to get you through this difficult time.

So here are some tried-and-true, mother-to-mother tips for coping as you navigate your journey through postpartum depression. These tips may also come in handy for anyone who is supporting or caring for you along your journey.

Emotional Tips

When you first start your journey toward healing from postpartum depression, it may feel nearly impossible to do much of anything—and that is understandable. You can talk with your therapist or counselor—along with the support people in your life—about how to motivate yourself to make necessary life-changes and manage your postpartum depression.

Still, even if you feel stuck at first, a little goes a long way. Even just making one small conscious choice toward emotional wellness per day can make a huge difference—and each small step adds up.

Here are some emotional self-care tips to manage the roller coaster of postpartum depression:

Make Time for Yourself

This may sound completely impractical when you are caring for a baby! Yet one of the triggers of postpartum depression is feeling overwhelmed and like your sense of self has been lost in a pile of diapers and burp cloths.

Taking time for yourself doesn’t have to be extravagant. Maybe it means letting the dishes pile up in the sink while you read the next chapter in your favorite novel. Maybe it means getting in a sweat session while your baby naps. Whatever it is, take a handful of minutes out of your day just for you. Make yourself a priority.

Recognize When You Need Help—And Ask for It

Many new moms think they need to “do it all” or they aren’t a good mom. But that’s far from the truth. You simply can’t do everything, and you won’t be failing yourself or your baby in any way if you reach out for help. Yes, that may mean learning to ask for the help—because not everyone knows what would help you the most in any given situation.

It also means recognizing that there are a lot of people in your life who are ready to do things like drop off a meal for you or hold your baby while you take a nap—you just have to be willing to accept that help into your life.

Help can also mean talking to your mental healthcare provider (or seeing your primary care physician for a referral if you don't yet have one). Regular talk therapy has shown to have many emotional benefits.

Postpartum Depression Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

Give Yourself Time To “Feel The Feels”

When you are busy caring for a baby and are “on” all the time, it can be easy to push your feelings aside, or keep them bottled up. That only makes managing the symptoms of postpartum depression that much harder. You need to be able to feel the difficult feelings in order to move through them.

Of course, feeling everything at once can be intense! It can be helpful to carve moments into your day where you consciously sit down, close your eyes, and just let yourself feel.

You can add some deep breathing to this, or you can take a few moments to write down your feelings, or share them with a loved one. Either way, make time for this. You deserve it.

Recognize Your Limits

Many moms who live with postpartum depression feel an intense amount of pressure to be a “perfect mom,” but understanding that that is virtually impossible is an important step toward letting go and feeling better. It is just not possible to have a tidy home, a happy baby, a streamlined schedule, and a freshly cooked dinner on the table each night—at least not all at once.

Recognize your limits right now. Remember that the season when your baby will need you this intensely is only a season. Prioritize your mental health, and the health and well-being of your baby, above all else right now. The laundry can wait—and so can that long list of baby gift “Thank You” notes.

Physical Wellness

The idea of fitting in exercise, sleep, and other healthy habits may sound completely far-fetched right now. The thing is, taking care of your physical health can have a direct effect on your mental health, so it’s vital that you focus on this right now, at least to some extent. Here again, you need to remember that more does not equal better.

Taking care of your physical health can happen in small spurts, between your baby’s feeds and naps. But each thing you do adds up and will help you feel better.

Exercise

Exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on decreasing postpartum depression symptoms. A meta-analysis of 12 research studies published in the journal Birth found that, “physical exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period is a safe strategy to achieve better psychological well‐being and to reduce postpartum depressive symptoms.”

How to fit exercise in when you are a busy, exhausted mom? There is almost no baby out there who doesn’t like motion. So strap your baby into a carrier, or safely into a stroller, and go on a walk. If you prefer solo exercise, try to fit it in when your baby is napping, or you have care for your baby. The laundry and dishes can wait. Even 10-15 minutes of exercise a day can help you tremendously.

Sleep

Research has found that inadequate sleep increases your risk of postpartum depression symptoms. But most of us don’t need to read a research study to know that lack of sleep makes it very difficult to function—and can lead to all kinds of emotional upset.

The problem is that sleep disruption and new motherhood go hand in hand. Babies don’t sleep the same way that adults do. They sleep in short spurts and wake frequently at night—and there’s not much you can do to change that, especially in the early months. Your best bet here is to find creative ways to make your own sleep a priority.

How to do that? Go to sleep earlier than you normally do (again, those chores can wait!). Ask your support people to hold your baby while you nap for a few hours. Ask your partner to let you sleep later in on the weekends. Have your partner take a few middle of the night feeds, or have them bring your baby to you for feedings. Think outside the box, but do make sleep a priority.

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is another thing that can fall by the wayside when you are caring for a baby, but you will feel better overall if you nourish your body with healthy foods. Yes, you want to make meal prep as simple as possible right now, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on quality.

For many of us, it can be helpful to have healthy snacks laid out around the house for easy access while we are feeding our baby. Same goes for drinks. Remember that if you are breastfeeding, you will likely need more calories right now. Whenever possible, focus on whole foods that are nutrient-dense, such as nuts, meats, eggs, and other proteins; fruits and veggies; and whole grains.

Social Strategies

Remember that you can’t do this alone. Motherhood is not meant to be an isolating experience. For most of human history, your community (“the village”) would support you when you had a new baby.

With so much of that lost these days, we often have to create those communities ourselves. But many are out there, if you only seek them.

Join a New Parent Support Group

There are many new parent support groups—whether at the hospital you gave birth, a community rec center, a library, or a new parenting support center. There are support groups that are specific to moms who are battling postpartum depression, and there are support groups specific to your interests or circumstances, including breastfeeding support groups, general parenting support groups, and more.

These groups are there to address any issues and questions you may have, but they are also about forming bonds with other moms, and taking comfort in the fact that you are not alone in your struggles.

Join an Online Support Group

These days, so many moms find their tribes online. There are so many online parenting support groups. Some may deal specifically with postpartum depression, but others may just have to do what a hobby, such as knitting or scrapbooking.

What’s great about online moms groups is that you can connect to other moms while you breastfeed your baby on the couch, or while you’re up again feeding your baby in the middle of the night. There is true value in having that kind of a lifeline.

A Word From Verywell

One of the important things to remember about postpartum depression is that it will take time for you to feel completely better. Healing is a day-to-day type of thing, and you need to have patience, and be gentle with yourself. You will not be able to make all of the changes to your life all in one day, or even one week. And all of the suggestions offered here are only suggestions, too. You can take what feels right to you, and leave the rest behind.

Remember that you can’t—and shouldn’t—do this alone. Your doctors and therapists are there for you. So are your friends and loved ones. Reach out to them whenever the need arises. They can help you answer any questions and concerns you have, especially when the day to day reality of parenting a baby feels all-consuming and insurmountable.

Above all else, remember that you and stronger and resilient than you even know. You’ve got this, and you are going to be okay.

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Article Sources
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  1. Poyatos-león R, García-hermoso A, Sanabria-martínez G, Álvarez-bueno C, Cavero-redondo I, Martínez-vizcaíno V. Effects of exercise-based interventions on postpartum depression: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Birth. 2017;44(3):200-208. doi:10.1111/birt.12294

  2. Lewis, B.A., Gjerdingen, D., Schuver, K. et al. The effect of sleep pattern changes on postpartum depressive symptomsBMC Women's Health 18, 12 (2018). doi:10.1186/s12905-017-0496-6