This blog post was written for our friends at Cuddles and Care. Cuddles and Care is a night nanny and on-call babysitting service in Vancouver.
Content Warning: This post contains discussions of perinatal mental health and mood disorders. Due to its heavy content, we suggest you take breaks when necessary, and check in with yourself. We also encourage you to have a support person accessible to you — whether learning alongside you, in the next room, or a phone call away. If you think you or someone you know might be dealing with depression, or any of the following disorders, please contact your healthcare provider or call a nurse hotline immediately.
Giving birth to a child is one of the most physically and emotionally challenging experiences a person can go through. The period after giving birth, known as the postpartum period or the 4th Trimester, can be both overwhelming and rewarding. As a new parent, taking care of your baby can take up most of your time and energy, but it is also important to prioritize your own mental health and support during this time.
While caring for ourselves is a tricky balance (at the best of times!), the postpartum period can be even more tender, vulnerable and shaky. When it comes to seeking and receiving care, allow yourself the freedom to explore what works for you and your family in its current state. You may have had a structured mental wellness and self-care practice in pregnancy or even before conception — know that your needs may be very different now and may need adjusting. Here we’ll share some of the information you’ll find in our online course, Postpartum and the 4th Trimester. Yes, sometimes self-care looks like movement, facemasks, nourishing food and rest (do those things too!), but it’s also about your community of care, and building a support network.
Understanding Your Needs
As we’ve mentioned, understanding your needs and accessing support tends to look and feel very different once you become a parent. Softening your expectations as you move through this time can offer more space for your to be curious about your needs and the wide spectrum of experiences you are experiencing. As you are healing from the effects of birth (and pregnancy, conception and more!), going through massive physical healing, extensive physiological changes, and emotional fluctuations — you will be juggling many new skills and a newborn. For most, this results in expansion and growth at an unprecedented rate — as well as potential feelings of overwhelm, freeze or more.
As you discover what support looks like for you now (as a parent), keep in mind that:
- Preventative care can be one of the best tools for becoming more resourced in your 4th trimester.
- This can look like having a plan of action, and standing mental health care appointments — to bolster you through times where you are not resourced to do so in the moment.
- We suggest booking as many virtual appointments as possible in the first 6 weeks, as leaving the house can be an added strain and depletion of your resources. This could also include making time to call a support hotline or a friend.
- Needs are different for everyone, regarding care, healing and support.
- Take stock of your mind, body, relationships and spiritual self — who you seek out for your needs will depend on how you are doing.
- Many parents tend to prioritize almost everything before themselves (their new baby, their relationships, their homes, etc) — we would love to flip that script! Seeking care and prioritizing healing for yourself can reduce many birth and postpartum health-related issues.
- These are known to return if unresolved, during menopause or other peak reproductive life experiences.
- If you are at all able to nurture yourself without your baby present — this can be a deeply nourishing practice to cultivate and can serve you in becoming a more resourced person and parent.
- For some carving out this time can cause shame, guilt and regret. Don’t rush this process if these feelings are coming up. Take baby steps towards establishing a routine to care for yourself.
- We understand that doing this may not be accessible for some parents, depending on their circumstances around time, resources, and availability of care for their newborn. If this is you, the first step would be to — find resources, and support (for example: start by seeking out community members who you may be able to do childcare swaps with!).
Perinatal Mood Disorders
Knowing the most common types of perinatal mental health concerns may help prepare you. Perinatal mood disorders can occur between pregnancy through to the end of your first postpartum year, and their symptoms are related to mood and anxiety. These can occur in up to 20% of new and expecting parents, and cover a wide range of conditions.
The Baby Blues: The baby blues are a direct effect of postpartum hormones, which affects everyone to varying degrees. This generally begins from birth to a few weeks postpartum. Find more in our hormones section below.
Postpartum Depression (PPD): PPD typically emerges beyond the baby blues stage, and into the 2nd and 3rd month postpartum. Symptoms will last longer than two weeks and can include feeling sad, depressed, and/or crying frequently. A loss of interest in usual activities, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, incompetence, irritability, poor concentration and/or feeling inadequate to cope with your new infant can also occur. Changes in appetite and sleep can be indicators of depression. Your care provider can support you by providing an evaluation, tools and prescription medication – for the short or long term, depending on your needs and goals.
Postpartum Anxiety (PPA): PPA can emerge at any point in your 4th trimester, and beyond – similarly to PPD. Your care provider can support you through evaluation, tools and prescription medication. Symptoms can range from panic attacks, rumination, obsessions, excessive worry, repeated thoughts and/or images of frightening things happening to your baby.
Postpartum Psychosis: This is an acute (sudden and severe) condition, and much less common than PPD or PPA. Symptoms include delusions (thoughts that are not based in reality), hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there) and/or disorganized thinking. It is essential that these parents seek immediate medical support for evaluation and treatment, via their local hospital and/or care providers. Postpartum psychosis is treatable, and with the right support, a surmountable challenge from which you can recover.
Be gentle with yourself.
Integrating all this new knowledge can feel intense — we’ve just thrown a lot your way! We hope that this can create a foundation of knowledge and beginnings of understanding of what is to come, and what other systems and supports you may want to put in place. Consider hiring a postpartum doula, someone who can support you in not only the mental and emotional challenges you may face in this period — but the logistical support, newborn care, sleep support for the whole family and more.
In the meantime, download our free, ultimate, need-to-know intel for parents in their third trimester to the fourth month of baby’s life – Brood’s New Parent Guide. This guide is filled with evidence-based education and lived expertise from birth workers, doulas and parents. It’s everything your friend-with-kids wants to tell you (but doesn’t have time to) about becoming a parent.