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The Baby Blues

By Elizabeth Pantley, author of Gentle Baby Care and The No-Cry Sleep Solution

I remember when I was lying in my hospital bed after the birth of my fourth child, Coleton. I had endured a full day of labor and a difficult delivery (who says the fourth one comes easily?), and I was tired beyond explanation. After the relief of seeing my precious new child came an uncontrollable feeling to close my eyes and sleep. As my husband cradled newborn Coleton, I drifted off; my parting thoughts were, "I canít do this. I donít have the energy. How will I ever take care of a baby?" Luckily for me, a few hours of sleep, a supportive family, and lucky genes were all it took to feel normal again. But as many as 80% of new mothers experience a case of the baby blues that lasts for weeks after the birth of their baby. This isnít something new mothers can control ĺ thereís no place for blame. The most wonderful and committed mothers, even experienced mothers of more than one child, can get the baby blues.

What are baby blues?

Your babyís birth has set into motion great changes in your body and in your life, and your emotions are reacting in a normal way. Dramatic hormonal shifts occur when a body goes from pregnant to not pregnant in a manner of minutes. Add to this your new title (Mommy!) and the responsibilities that go with it, and your blues are perfectly understandable. Youíre not alone; this emotional letdown during the first few weeks is common after birth. Just remember that your state of mind has a physical origin and is exacerbated by challenging circumstances ĺ and you and your body will adjust to both soon.

How do I know if I have the baby blues?

Every woman who experiences the baby blues (also called postpartum blues) does so in a different way. The most common symptoms include:

Could it be more than just the baby blues?

If youíre not sure whether you have the blues ask your doctor or midwife, and donít feel embarrassed: This is a question that health care providers hear often and with good reason. If youíre feeling these symptoms to a degree that disrupts your normal level of function, if your baby is more than a few weeks old, or if you have additional symptoms ĺ particularly feelings of resentment or rejection toward your baby or even a temptation to harm him ĺ you may have more than the blues, you may have postpartum depression. This is a serious illness that requires immediate treatment. Please call a doctor or professional today. If you canít make the call, then please talk to your partner, your mother or father, a sibling or friend and ask them to arrange for help. Do this for yourself and for your baby. If you canít talk about it, hand this page it to someone close to you. Itís that important. You do not have to feel this way, and safe treatment is available, even if youíre breastfeeding.

How can I get rid of the blues?

While typical baby blues are fairly brief and usually disappear on their own, you can do a few things to help yourself feel better and get through the next few emotional days or weeks:

Give yourself time.
Grant yourself permission to take the time you need to become a mother. Pregnancy lasts nine months, the adoption process can take even longer, and your babyís actual birth is only a moment ĺ but becoming a mother takes time. Motherhood is an immense responsibility. In my opinion, it is the most overwhelming, meaningful, incredible, transforming experience of a lifetime. No wonder it produces such emotional and physical change!

No other event of this magnitude would ever be taken lightly, so donít feel guilty for treating this time in your life as the very big deal it is. Remind yourself that itís okay (and necessary) to focus on this new aspect of your life and make it your number-one priority. Tending to a newborn properly takes time ĺ all the time in his world. So, instead of feeling guilty or conflicted about your new focus, put your heart into getting to know this new little person. The world can wait for a few weeks.

Consider as objectively as you can just what you have accomplished: You have formed a new, entire person inside your own body and brought him forth; you have been party to a miracle. Or, if you've adopted, you've chosen to invite a miracle into your life and became an instant mother. You deserve a break and some space in which to just exist with your amazing little one, unfettered by outside concerns.

Talk to someone who understands.
Talk to a sibling, relative or friend with young children about what you are feeling. Someone who has experienced the baby blues can help you realize that they are temporary, and everything will be fine. A confidante can also serve as a checkpoint who can encourage you to seek help if he or she perceives that you need it.

Reach out and get out.
Simply getting out (if you are physically able and okayed for this by your health care provider) and connecting with people at large can go a long way toward reorienting your perspective. Four walls can close in very quickly, so change the scenery and head to the mall, the park, the library, a coffeehouse ĺ whatever place you enjoy. Youíll feel a sense of pride as strangers ooh and ahh over your little one, and your baby will enjoy the stimulation, too.

Join a support group.
Joining a support group, either in person or online, can help you sort through your feelings about new motherhood. Take care to choose a group that aligns with your core beliefs about parenting a baby. As an example, if you are committed to breastfeeding, but most other members of the group are bottlefeeding, this may not be the best place for you, since your breastfeeding issues wonít be understood and you wonít find many helpful ideas among this group. If you have multiples, a premature baby, or a baby with special needs, for example, seek out a group for parents with babies like yours. And within those parameters, look for a group with your same overall parenting beliefs. Just because you all have twin babies doesnít mean you will all choose to parent them in the same way, so try to find like-minded new friends.

Tell Daddy what he can do to help.
Itís very important that your spouse or partner be there for you right now. He may want to help you, but he may be unsure of how. Here are a few things that he can do for you ĺ show him this list to help him help you:

Accept help from others.
Family and friends are often happy to help if you just ask. When people say, "Let me know if I can do anything" they usually mean it. So, go ahead and ask kindly for what you want, whether itís watching your baby so that you can nap, taking your older child to the park, helping you make a meal, or doing some laundry.

Get some sleep.
Right now, sleeplessness will enhance your feelings of depression. So, take every opportunity to get some shuteye. Nap when the baby sleeps, go to bed early, and sleep in later in the morning if you can. If you are co-sleeping, take advantage of this special time when you donít have to get up out of bed to tend to your baby. And if your babyís sleep patterns are distressing to you then reach out to an experienced parent for help, or check out my book The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night.

Donít fret about perfection right now.
Household duties are not your top priority now ĺ in fact, nothing aside from getting to know your baby is. Remember that people are coming to see your baby, not your house, so enjoy sharing your baby with visitors without worrying about a little clutter or dust. Simplify, prioritize, and delegate routine tasks, errands, and obligations.

Enjoy your job.
If you work outside the home, then view your time at your job as an opportunity to refresh and prepare yourself to enjoy your baby fully when you are at home. Go ahead ĺ talk about your baby and share pictures with your co-workers. Chances are, theyíll love to hear about your new little one. This is a nice and appropriate way of indulging your natural instincts to focus on your baby when you canít be with her.

Get into exercising.
With your health care providerís approval, start exercising with short walks or swims. Exercise will help you feel better in many ways both physical and emotional. Even if you didnít exercise before you had your baby, this is a great time to start. Studies prove that regular exercise helps combat depression, and it will help you regain your pre-baby body much more quickly.

Eat healthful foods.
When the body isnít properly nourished, spirits can flag ĺ particularly when the stress of recovery makes more nutritional demands. If you are breastfeeding, a nourishing diet is important for both you and your baby. Healthful foods, eaten in frequent meals, can provide the nutrition you need to combat the baby blues and give you the energy you need to handle your new role. And donít forget to drink water and other healthy fluids, especially if youíre nursing! Dehydration can cause fatigue and headaches.

Take care of yourself.
Parenting a new baby is an enormous responsibility, but things will fall into place for you and everything will seem easier given time. During this adjustment phase, try to do a few things for yourself. Simple joys like reading a book, painting your nails, going out to lunch with a friend or other ways in which you nourish your spirit can help you feel happier.

Love yourself.
You are amazing: Youíve become mother to a beautiful new baby. Youíve played a starring role in the production of an incredible miracle. Be proud of what youíve accomplished, and take the time to know and enjoy the strong, capable, multifaceted person you are becoming.

This article is a copyrighted excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

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