Just yesterday, someone asked me a huge question: How do we prevent postpartum depression?
Honestly, all I could do was repeat her question with a half-chuckle, half-sigh.
But there is nothing funny about it; I know that (and believe me, so does my husband). My clients know that, too.
When I speak with people about preventing postpartum depression, I don't speak in the language of guarantees or absolutes. I use the language of risk reduction rather than risk elimination often. Because the postpartum is a steep learning curve, because meaningful maternity leave is a privilege and not a right, and because culturally we value independence and strength through adversity (these are huge concepts I'm throwing around, which I have discussed repeatedly and surely will another time!), perinatal emotional complications occur at a rate of 1 in 5 women. Think about how many moms were in your prenatal yoga class. Or your childbirth ed class. Or how many rooms there are on the the labor and delivery floor at the hospital where you gave birth. One in five is high.
A timely article was published yesterday; it discusses one aspect of risk reduction: caring for the mother, at a time when she is depleting herself taking care of her baby. The author observes her close friend with her newborn, and states:
"In her three weeks since having a baby, she had been so bogged down with infant care, that caring for herself and her basic needs felt impossible...considering herself at all had somehow been pushed away because she had been made to feel like her only priority should be her baby. And no one had ever told her otherwise — that it was OK to hand him off to her husband and take a long hot shower or walk around her neighborhood, or to tell the people who were coming to see the baby to hold him while she took a nap...it was the same lack of support that most mothers of any age learn to simply accept during postpartum."
The article, from the website Ravishly, can be read in its entirety here.
Here's one suggestion I have for you, if you are a friend visiting a new mom. Ask her how she is doing. Make the purpose of your visit or call to check in with her first, and ask about the baby second. As cute as that baby is and as lovely as it is to snuggle a baby -- tend to the mother's needs first. When was the last time she ate a real meal? Showered? Napped? Took a moment away from the baby? Take care of her.
And if you are a new mom or are about to be one, who in your support network can you pinpoint to care for you first? Let that person know that that is the special role he or she can play in your postpartum. Ideally before the baby is born, of course, but NOW is as good a time as any.