How to Handle Postpartum Depression Without Self-Medicating

Medically Reviewed

You are not alone. A little over 13% of women have postpartum depression (PPD) in the United States, according to America’s Health Rankings. Feeling a little blue after giving birth is considered a normal reaction. The “baby blues” can include crying spells, mood swings, trouble sleeping, and anxiety. These symptoms may start within a few days after the baby is born and could last up to two weeks.

Some new moms may experience a severe, longer-lasting form of depression called postpartum depression or PPD. PPD should not be considered a character flaw, indicate weakness in the mother, or be construed as something negative toward the mother. It is a complication of giving birth that consists of several factors.

While PPD can be difficult for a new mother to cope with, there are healthy ways in which she can cope with it without self-medicating.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression can start with the baby blues. Symptoms for this are sadness, mood swings, crying, trouble sleeping, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, lack of concentration, irritability, and appetite problems.

The Mayo Clinic identifies the symptoms of postpartum depression as:

  • Excessive crying
  • Trouble bonding with the baby
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Hopelessness
  • Restlessness
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Being unable to think clearly, concentrate, or make decisions
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, shameful, or inadequate
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
  • No interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Intense anger and irritability
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or yourself from out of nowhere
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or death

PPD signs or symptoms are more severe and may develop within the first weeks after giving birth, during pregnancy, or later, and can last up to a year after birth. These are clear indications that you or the new mother you care about has PPD.

New Dads Can Have PPD

Contrary to what you may think, some new dads experience PPD also. This is called paternal postpartum depression. New fathers may be feeling fatigued, sad, overwhelmed, anxious, or have changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Young fathers, those with a history of depression, and those who are struggling financially are at a higher risk of developing PPD.  Fathers with PPD should not be seen as being weak and incapable. They are experiencing trouble adjusting to their new life and responsibilities.

The American Academy of Pediatricians mentions some of the risk factors in which a father can develop PPD. These are:

  • Maternal depression
  • Trouble bonding with the baby
  • Lack of a strong male role model
  • Changes in relationship with the mother, lack of intimacy
  • Feeling excluded and/or jealous of mother-child bonding
  • Work or financial stresses
  • Lack of support or help from family and friends
  • Low testosterone

How To Cope With Postpartum Depression

The most effective way to cope is to consult with your doctor. They can advise you on how to best treat PPD. Talk therapy, also called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), is one method of treatment. CBT helps you become aware of negative or inadequate thinking so that you can see difficult situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively. It is often employed when treating depression and learning how to manage life’s stressful situations—like coping with a new baby and what that brings.

There are doctor-prescribed medications that can help in managing PPD symptoms, which are not harmful to the breastfeeding infant.

Why Self-Medicating Is a Bad Idea

There are several reasons why you may think that self-medicating with substances could help you manage PPD.

  • It could improve your mood.
  • It could relieve stress and anxiety.
  • It could help you fall asleep.
  • It could give you more energy.
  • It could lessen your depression.

While those may seem like good enough reasons to drink alcohol, have some cigarettes, or take drugs, substance use after giving birth can be harmful to you, your baby, and your partner.

Alcohol in Breast Milk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “exposure to alcohol above moderate levels through breast milk could be damaging to an infant’s development, growth, and sleep patterns.”  It also affects the mother’s judgment and can create safety problems. The CDC also says that excessive drinking (more than one alcoholic drink per day) can decrease breast milk flow.

Drugs in Breast Milk

Drugs found in breast milk can cause the baby to experience adverse effects, such as:

  • Extreme irritability, tremulousness, vomiting, and diarrhea (cocaine)
  • Motor development delays (marijuana/cannabis), Sedation, respiratory depression, and withdrawal (methadone)
  • Neurobehavioral depression (painkillers)
  • Increased irritability, poor sleep patterns (caffeine)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and asthma (nicotine)

If those aren’t compelling reasons to stop self-medicating, then here are a few more:

  • Self-medicating may cause a rift in your relationship with your partner, family, and friends.
  • Self-medicating can cause a lack of judgment, putting the baby’s safety at risk.
  • Self-medicating can jeopardize having your baby taken away.

Alternative Avenues To Cope Other Than Self-Medication

New mothers and fathers with postpartum depression should seek alternative avenues to cope with PPD, rather than self-mediation. To get you started, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get moving and add exercise to your day. Exercise may have positive antidepressant effects for the mom with PPD. Go outside and take a short walk. Try a postnatal exercise video at home. Squeeze in 10 minutes of exercise when the baby is asleep or when your partner is caring for your child.
  • Eat often, and eat healthily. Nutritious foods give your body the nutrients it needs. Make some healthy snacks to grab quickly, or ask someone to make some for you.
  • Make time for yourself. Sneak a 15-minute break into the day to relax, take a refreshing shower or bath, take a yoga class, or just get out of the house. Ask a family member or friend to babysit.
  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. Even if you hear this over and over, it is solid advice. Turn your phone to the “mute” setting. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression, so be sure to catch a nap when you can.
  • Connect with other mothers or fathers. There is a good variety of online new parent forums where you can meet and swap methods of beating PPD. Share yours and take note of the others. If that doesn’t appeal to you, call the mothers or fathers you know (young and old) and ask for suggestions.

Serenity at Summit provides help for people struggling with mental health disorders and is available to help you stop self-medicating with substances. It only takes a phone call to find a safer, healthier way to cope with postpartum depression.

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