How to Manage the Baby Blues
People talk a lot about the Baby Blues, and often they are confused with Postnatal Depression. However, they are two very different things. So what are the Baby Blues, why do they occur and how can you not only survive them, but thrive?
What Are the Baby Blues?
The Baby Blues are a naturally occurring phenomenon and happen to around 80% of new mums. Generally they kick in anywhere from 2 to 10 days post birth. The good news is they usually only last a couple of days.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Tiredness, often accompanied by sleeplessness, no matter how tired you are
- Feeling weepy and crying for little or no reason
- Mood swings and irritability
- Trouble thinking clearly and making simple decisions
- Loss of appetite
Whilst we don’t know why some women suffer from the Baby Blues and others don’t, we do have a pretty good idea of the causes and contributing factors:
- In the days following birth the hormones your body is producing fluctuate wildly, and these hormones control your mood to a large extent
- Following pregnancy and birth your body is often depleted of much needed nutrients, adding to the tiredness you will feel as a consequence of disturbed sleep
- If your birth was difficult, or did not go according to plan, you may be feeling disappointment, guilt or even resentment
- Worry about things other than the baby, like money, jobs and family or relationships
What You Can Do
Typically, the Baby Blues don’t require intervention and will resolve themselves once your hormones settle and you find a routine. However there are a few things you can do to lessen their impact.
- Eat well. Pregnancy will have depleted your body of a range of nutrients and the sooner you replenish them the better you will feel. There are also certain foods which contain nutrients that help balance hormones. These include lean proteins, leafy greens, eggs, avocados, almonds and cashews, flax, pumpkin, and chia seeds. And it’s important to stay hydrated. Particularly if you are breast feeding.
- Sleep. Yes, it sounds simple. But it’s not always so easy with a new baby. If you can, sleep when baby does. Don’t worry about the washing or the dusting – it will all still be there when you feel a little more on top of things.
- Fresh Air and Exercise. If the weather permits, put baby in a sling or a pram and go for a walk. Even if it’s just around the block. You will both benefit from the experience and you’ll feel better having escaped the house. Especially if the washing is piling up.
- Accept Help. Family and friends are almost always willing to help with a preparing a nutritious meal, doing a load of washing, or watching the baby while you get some rest.
- Make some time for yourself. This is particularly useful if you feel yourself missing your ‘old life’ (don’t feel guilty – it’s not unusual to feel this way). Even if you can only carve out 20 minutes to read, watch an episode of your favourite sitcom or disappear down the YouTube rabbit hole, do something you enjoyed pre-baby.
- Find a good Doula. An experienced Doula is trained at helping manage the Baby Blues and can not only provide physical and nutritional support, but a sympathetic and experienced ear for you to confide in.
Finally, cut yourself some slack. Don’t try to live up to some impossible standard of perceived ‘perfection’. Every new mum struggles with aspects of adjusting to parenthood, so don’t be fooled by the Insta-worthy impressions presented by others.
How to Tell if it’s Something More
As I mentioned earlier, the Baby Blues generally last no more than a few days. If you notice any of the following symptoms it may be a sign of something deeper like Postnatal Depression.
- If your low mood doesn’t lift for more than two weeks
- If there is no light and shade in your day – with the Baby Blues you will generally have moments of happiness, even if they are fleeting
- If you begin to experience these feelings more than two weeks after the birth of your baby, at any time in the first year after birth.
Postnatal Depression should be taken seriously, and you should contact your health care provider or community health nurse as soon as possible if you have concerns. You might also like to check out The Gidget Foundation.
If you feel in imminent danger of harming yourself or your baby, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14,
One Last Thing…
It’s not only birthing mums who can suffer from Baby Blues. Partners can also experience a bout of blues after the birth of a new baby, so it’s important to keep an eye on each other.
If you are pregnant of have just given birth and are concerned about how to manage the Baby Blues, I would love to help. Please give me a call on 0422 258 771, or contact me here for a chat:
What is Postnatal Depletion?
Postnatal Depletion refers to the physical and mental deterioration of a woman caused by the process of pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding, and caring for her child. Whilst there has been a great deal of discussion on Postnatal Depression, Postnatal Depletion is not as commonly understood. However, according to Dr Oscar Serrallach[i] more than 50% of women suffer postnatal depletion, and it can last up to 7-10 years. Which means, of course, it is highly likely you are still depleted when you have your next baby, further depleting your reserves.
So how do you reduce the risk of Postnatal Depletion, and if you do experience it, what can you do to help recover?
What Causes Postnatal Depletion?
During pregnancy, the mother’s body diverts essential nutrients first to the baby. This can cause a depletion of essential nutrients in the mother’s body. The most significant of these is essential fatty acids, which are required to support brain development in your baby but are also essential to your own wellbeing and brain function.
Other nutrients which are depleted during pregnancy include Vitamins A, B6 + B12, D, E, K, folate, iron, zinc, magnesium, thiamine, selenium, and niacin.
In addition, there are changes to the mother’s brain which rewire it for motherhood, and, according to some doctors, cause it to shrink up to 5%, which is the cause of ‘baby brain’. The continued loss of DHA fatty acids exacerbate this.
Once baby is born, the depletion of essential fatty acids and nutrients continues as these are diverted to producing breast milk for your growing baby.
Although they are two very different conditions, many of the symptoms of Postnatal Depletion are similar to Postnatal Depression. In fact, extreme depletion can lead to, or at the very least exacerbate, postnatal depression.
- Extreme fatigue – tiredness even when you first wake up, falling asleep without meaning to
- Mood swings
- Baby Brain – including poor memory, fogginess, inability to concentrate, and a feeling of being ‘lost’
- Hypervigilance – feeling constantly wired and on alert
- Loss of libido
- Feeling overwhelmed by motherhood
- Reduced immune function – which can lead to poor gut health, increased risk of illness and infections like mastitis
Reducing the Risk
The best way to reduce the risk of postnatal depletion is to be prepared:
If you are planning to become pregnant, make sure you are eating a healthy diet rich in the nutrients we mentioned earlier, and you are getting plenty of rest and exercise. The stronger and healthier you are when you conceive, the better for you and your growing baby.
Again, make sure you are getting the nutrition you need. Be especially careful to ensure you consume sufficient fatty acids. Seafood is high in these nutrients, and since pregnant women need to take care around eating seafood because of concerns about mercury, it is worthwhile looking for additional ways to include them in your diet. Try walnuts, flax seeds, chai seeds and egg yolks. And make sure you get plenty of rest so you are at your best when labour begins. This is also a time to think about how you will be supported once baby is born. Put in place some plans that will ensure you have the help you need.
The two most important factors here are nutrition and rest. Easier said than done when you have a new baby to take care of. But taking care of mum is just as important as taking care of baby. There’s a reason they tell you to fit your own oxygen mask first – you can’t care for others if you are not coping yourself. Don’t feel you need to leap back onto your feet. Many cultures around the world incorporate a full month of care for the mother post-birth. This allows time to recover strength and replenish lost nutrients, and return to health.
How to Recover
Whether you are experiencing Postnatal Depletion or not, taking care of yourself after you have given birth is vital to you returning to full health and being the best version of yourself you can be – which can only be good for your children, your partner, and your friends and family, not to mention yourself.
Here are a few things to help every new mum, particularly those suffering from depletion:
- Look carefully at your diet. It is not always easy to get the micro and macro nutrients we need, especially when you are tired and busy with a new baby, so choose your foods carefully. Enrich your diet with fruits, nuts, raw vegetables, and plenty of hydration. These can easily be eaten while you feed baby. Consider talking to a nutritionist who specialises in postnatal nutrition, or engage a Doula, who will provide you with meals rich in the specific nutrients you need.
- Incorporate gentle exercise in your day – whether it is a walk in the fresh air with baby in the pram, or a yoga class. A little light exercise will improve brain function and help balance hormones
- Rest – it’s hard to get enough sleep when you have a new baby. Think about whether there is a friend or family member who can watch baby for an hour while you nap each day, or split the night feeds with your partner so you can get a good run at sleep. There will be a routine that works for you.
- Call in support. This is the time when a woman needs the most support she can get, see if you have friends or family who can help once your partner goes back to work, or consider a Postpartum Doula, who will not only provide nutritional foods, but can help with caring for baby, light housework, advice on breastfeeding and sleep routines, but also with giving you space to get some rest yourself.
If you feel you may be experiencing postnatal depletion, or you are pregnant and would like to take steps to ensure you don’t experience it, I would love to help you. I have a Certificate in Botanical Medicine for Motherhood, which addresses Postnatal Depletion, and can provide a range of nutritional meals as well as physical and emotional support. Please give me a call on 0422 258 771, or contact me:
[i] Dr Oscar Serrallach – The Postnatal Depletion Cure: A Complete Guide to Rebuilding Your Health and Reclaiming Your Energy for Mothers of Newborns, Toddlers and Young Children
Being a Dad in the Postpartum Period
In our last article we talked about the important role a dad has in the birth process. But what happens when baby comes home? This can be a tricky time for dads, who might feel out of their depth, or think there is not much they can do to help. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your partner and baby need you now more than ever. So let’s take a look at some of the things you may be facing, and what you can do to help.
Parental sleep and new babies don’t usually go hand in hand, so you need to have a plan.
Try and work out a routine that allows you both a bit of real rest. Even if mum is breast feeding there are ways you can help. Perhaps you could do every second nappy change and settling during the night, so mum doesn’t have to get up every time, or you might take all the changes/settlings before midnight. Decide what works for you.
Don’t underestimate the power of the nap. If the weather is good, take baby for a walk for an hour and give mum time for an uninterrupted nap. Any time mum can sleep without keeping one ear open for baby is like gold.
And always remember, mum is not only sleep deprived, but is recovering from growing and birthing a human, not to mention producing milk for said human. She needs all the rest she can get.
Be the Housekeeper
Sadly, household chores don’t go away when you have a new baby. Do as much of the cleaning, washing, shopping and cooking as you can. And let her know you’re on top of it so she isn’t left worrying that it’s not getting done.
The first month or two is the ideal time to get help around the house – either ask friends or family or hire a cleaner. A Postpartum Doula will also help with light housework and cooking.
It takes a lot of nourishment to produce milk for a baby. Make sure she is getting the nutrition she needs. If cooking is not one of your superpowers, don’t be shy in asking friends and family to help. Alternatively, a good Postpartum Doula can provide you with specially designed meals for the breastfeeding mum.
The value of a snack and something to drink while she is feeding baby cannot be over-stated.
Be the Gatekeeper
Take it upon yourself to make sure well-wishers don’t overstay their welcome. If mum looks tired, send them on their way. Try to make sure you always have something on hand to feed and water the inevitable visitors. And clean up after they leave.
Be Actively Present
Yes, you may have had a hard day at work and want to come home and relax. But mum has had a hard day at home taking care of your baby with little or no support. So when you get home, roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Not only will your partner appreciate it but caring for your baby presents a great bonding opportunity.
Don’t do the ‘Would you like me to cook dinner? What would you like?’ thing. Take ownership. “I’ll cook dinner. How about [insert your signature dish here]?’ The same goes for all the household chores. Notice what needs to be done and just do it. And do it properly – squirting bleach in the toilet and saying you’ve cleaned the bathroom just won’t cut it!
A word about the Baby Blues
It is normal for mums to feel down after the birth of a baby. Hormones combined with exhaustion can have a negative effect on mood. But it is important to monitor whether mum’s mood is normal baby blues or has tipped over into Postpartum Depression. If you feel this might be the case, seek help from a professional as soon as possible.
It is not only mums who suffer from the baby blues. One in four men suffer from some degree of depression after the birth of a baby. So be aware of your own mental health and seek help if you need it.
Help is at Hand
Being a new parent is hard on both mums and dads. You are trying to learn a new job, whilst at the same time being sleep deprived and hormonal. Finding someone who can help support you in this transition from partners to family can be invaluable.
A Postpartum Doula can help you with just about any of the tasks you will need to be on top of, and at the same time brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that will help you master some of those things which you have had no experience with before.
If you would like to talk about the benefits using a Postpartum Doula can provide I would be happy to chat. Contact me on 0422 258 771 or:
When Fur Baby Meets Human Baby
Before we have human children it’s not unusual to treat our pets as ‘fur babies’. Whether you have a cat, a dog, or both, they are part of our family naturally and have a special place in our hearts. But when human babies come along things often have to change, and it is not uncommon for our fur babies to get stressed, anxious and jealous. After all, they don’t understand why they are no longer your first priority. There are a few things you can do to reduce any negative impact the arrival of your human baby might have on those furry ones, and to keep your human baby safe.
It is important to start thinking about the changes you will need to make early on in your pregnancy. Ideally, by the time you are around 4 months pregnant you should be gradually introducing those changes. If your pet associates the changes in its life to the coming home of the baby it may set up a jealous reaction, so start slowly and early so your pet doesn’t make that connection.
For Dogs and Cats
There are a few things you might like to consider whether you have a dog or a cat:
- Animals have a much keener sense of smell than humans, and when baby comes home there will be all sorts of new smells – talcum powder, baby lotion, baby wipes. In the months before you give birth, rub some of these things on your legs while you are home so your pet can get used to them. When these unfamiliar smells blend with your familiar one, your pet will get used to them quickly.
- Babies can make a lot of noise, and if your dog or cat is unfamiliar with a crying baby it can create fear or anxiety. Try playing recordings of babies crying in the months leading up to your labour. As with all this advice, start slow – just a minute or two – and build up your pet’s resistance. Happy by-product – it will build up your resistance too!
- If you have friends with babies, ask them to bring them over and introduce them to your pets so they are familiar with the look of a baby, and all the paraphernalia that goes with them.
- If you feed your fur baby in the house, think about where that food (and the litter tray if you have a cat) is situated. It if is somewhere baby will be using, gradually move it until it is somewhere baby won’t be able to get to, and your pet will feel secure in the safety of their food.
- Think about who your dog is most attached to. If it is you, try to develop a deeper relationship between your dog and your partner or another family member who will be able to focus on the dog when baby comes home.
- Think about your routine – if you walk the dog twice a day, will this be sustainable once baby comes home? If not, and you decide you will have to drop down to once a day for a while at least, start your new routine now. Don’t suddenly go from two walks to one, but maybe only one walk every third day, then every second, until you feel your dog is OK with one.
- Does your dog sleep on the bed with you? Find an alternative to this early. Even if you don’t plan on co-sleeping with your baby, there will probably be times when the baby will end up in your bed – if only so you can get some sleep yourself. Having a dog in the bed with a baby is not ideal, especially if it is a big dog.
- Think about where your baby’s play area might be. Baby’s need ‘tummy time’ from very early on, so set up your ‘exclusion zone’ early so your dog knows where it is not supposed to go. Baby gates can be good for this. If that’s not possible think about a playpen for baby.
- If your fur baby is a jumper, think about some training, particularly if it is a big dog. The last thing you want is your baby to come to any unintended harm while you are holding them.
Cats can be little trickier than dogs. Not only are they less ‘trainable’ but they are able to get into places that dogs just can’t. This makes them harder to manage with a new baby.
- Probably the most important thing to bear in mind is that a cat should never have access to where your baby is going to sleep. Cats have a way of curling up where it is warm and comfortable, and if they decide that is beside your baby’s face it could have tragic consequences.
- Cats are very sensitive about smells, and new things coming into the house – like cots and prams – can cause them to feel they need to mark their territory. As soon as you introduce an item, run a clean cloth over your cat’s head, and then wipe it over the legs of the pram, cot, or change table. Putting their scent on it will let the cat know it is safe.
- You may like to invest in a cat pheromone diffuser. You can get them from any vet. This will disperse harmless cat pheromones into the air which keep kitty calm. It’s the cat world equivalent of a lavender candle!
- Make sure your cat has somewhere safe they can go to get away from baby once it starts moving. If you feed your cat in the laundry, can you install a cat-flap in the door? Your cat will feel much less stressed if it feels it has somewhere safe to hide.
Introducing your Babies
If you have had a hospital or birthing centre birth it is possible you have been away for a couple of days, and your pet will have missed you. Ask your partner or another family member to hold the baby while you greet your fur babies so that you can give them your undivided attention.
Once they have settled down after seeing you again, introduce baby. Try and do it on neutral territory – the front yard or porch is often good. Make sure both baby and pet are held securely, with dogs on a lead, and let your pet smell the baby. Give them lots of praise (and a treat) if they respond well, but don’t force it if they give baby a quick sniff and then turn away. Some will take a little more time to get used to the new addition than others.
As much as we love them, it is important to remember that our fur babies are animals. No matter how much you trust them, never leave them alone with your baby. All it takes is for baby to reach out and innocently pull an ear or tail and things could go horribly wrong. Stick to supervised visits until your baby is old enough to know how to touch your pets.
If you are pregnant and would like more information on how to manage the introduction of a baby into your life, or you have any questions about pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, I would love to chat. Give me a call on 0422 258 771 or get in touch:
Do’s and Don’ts of Co-Sleeping
There are few parenting topics more hotly debated than the subject of co-sleeping with your baby. Many paediatricians, clinic nurses and family members will tell you that it is unsafe. They suggest you might roll onto your baby and smother them, or that there is an increased risk of SIDs. In fact, all the recent research shows this is untrue. There are some great benefits to both parents and babies in co-sleeping, if you do it correctly. Here is a little about co-sleeping, and some essential do’s and don’ts.
What do we mean by co-sleeping?
The broadest definition of co-sleeping is that baby and parent sleep ‘within sensory reach’ of each other. For some people, this means baby sleeping in the bed with them, others may prefer baby in a basket between them on the bed, and for some it may mean a bassinette or cradle within reach of the parents’ bed.
There are slightly different considerations for baby’s sleeping on the same surface as parents to those sleeping in their own bed within sensory reach. However one thing is common – a baby should never sleep in the same room as a smoker. This has been identified as a significant increase in the risk of SIDs, so if you or your partner are smokers, baby should have their own space.
Benefits of Co-Sleeping
According to James McKenna[i], co-sleeping is ‘biologically appropriate’ given the dependent nature of human infants. In McKenna’s research, co-sleeping, particularly safely on the same surface – has been shown to:
- Help synchronise heartbeat, brainwaves, breathing rate, oxygenation, and temperature of babies and parents, strengthening the parent/baby bond
- Because both babies and parents sleep more lightly and rouse more frequently, dangerous periods of apnoea (related to SIDs) are interrupted
- Lighter sleep is associated with REM sleep, which is vital in brain development in infants
- Both parents and babies slept longer, decreasing exhaustion
- Fathers who sleep close to their baby show a decrease in testosterone leading to improved sensitivity and responsiveness in parenting
- Small studies suggest babies who co-sleep go on to develop early signs of independence in dressing and problem resolution
Same Surface Co-Sleeping versus Sensory Reach
Same Surface Sleeping
The most beneficial form of co-sleeping is same surface sleeping, where baby sleeps in your bed with you. Studies show that although this form of sleeping causes lighter sleep with more waking, the quality and quantity of sleep for both baby and parents is improved, not least because there is less disruption for both mother and baby. However, you need to make sure your bed is safe for baby:
- The surface should be smooth and solid – no waterbeds or sheepskin underblankets
- Ensure there is not a gap between your bed and a wall in which the baby can get trapped
- Avoid heavy blankets, doonas or excessive amounts of pillows that may overheat or suffocate baby
- If you or your partner are heavy drinkers, drug users or take sedatives, it is not a good idea to co-sleep on the same sleep surface as you may not be as aware of your sleep positions as a lighter sleeper
- Babies should not co-sleep with older children – even toddlers – or pets
- Never leave your baby alone on an adult bed – it’s amazing how quickly they learn to roll over!
- Wrapping or swaddling your baby when you are co-sleeping on the same surface is not advised
If any of these present a problem, consider sensory-reach co-sleeping as an alternative.
Sensory Reach Sleeping
Sensory reach co-sleeping refers to baby sleeping in their own ‘bed’, within reach of yours. If this is your preference, you should follow general sleep instructions:
- always put baby on their back
- avoid soft mattresses and pillows
- avoid heavy blankets
- swaddle or wrap baby if you and your baby prefer
Who Wakes Who?
Interestingly, co-sleeping studies conducted by James McKenna suggest that babies wake their mothers 60% of the time, but mothers wake their babies 40% of the time. When mums wake their baby it is with touches, hugs and whispers. This loving attention increases the heart rate and oxygenation of the baby, and reduces the risk of apnoea. It also reduces stress and cortisol levels in both mother and baby.
Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding
Co-sleeping and breastfeeding are a match made in heaven. Research by The SIDs Global Task Force suggests that while safe co-sleeping reduces the risk of SIDs, when it is combined with breastfeeding the risk is even lower.
The benefits of safe co-sleeping are also amplified when baby is breast fed. Disruption to sleep is minimal, and studies show the position in which most mums feed their baby actually provides the optimally safe space – baby’s face at breast level, mums arm between baby’s head and the pillow, legs bent.
If you would like to find out more about the benefits of co-sleeping – or any other pregnancy, birth or postpartum issue – I would love to chat with you. Give me a call on 0422 258 771. or contact me here:
[i] Director Emeritus of the Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame University