Adopt some of these healthy self-care habits and look out of signs of other conditions during your first few weeks of being a new mum to improve your mental health.
According to the World Health Organisation, 10 per cent of pregnant women and 13 per cent of women who just gave birth experience a mental disorder. Of these, the condition is usually depression. One of the most common is “baby blues”, caused by hormonal and lifestyle changes.
Most women experience some symptoms, like crying more, feeling overwhelmed and being more emotionally fragile. However, this should taper off at the end of the second week postpartum. Thus, it’s important to practice self-care as you settle into a new routine with your baby. Also, watch out for signs of other conditions like anxiety or depression.
Build Good Self-Care Habits for Yourself
Start by nurturing good self-care habits, such as eating a well-balanced diet and get some exercise every day. Try a 30-minute walk around the neighbourhood or doing stretching exercises like yoga. Getting 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight can also help to elevate your mood.
Reduce Chores and Errands
Conserve energy by sitting down to do chores like changing a nappy, folding laundry or breastfeeding. For meals, make simple meals like salads and sandwiches. Of course, you could also just order from the food delivery apps, confinement meals or tingkat services to save you precious time in the kitchen.
Don’t feel obligated to tackle all your chores and errands, and instead focus on taking care of yourself and your baby. Consider getting your family and friends to help out with the chores at home. Examples of these include helping with the laundry, and running errands on your behalf. Otherwise, hire a confinement nanny, part-time or full-time helper. Another option is to get your in-laws or parents to help out, provided they’re willing and able to.
Finally, try to get more rest, which might mean someone takes over a shift for you so you can sleep. Wherever possible, try and nap during the day when your baby is asleep. In the first few months, try to catch up on your sleep on the weekend and cut out caffeine and other stimulants to improve the quality of your sleep.
Set Aside Time for You
Each day, set aside time to do something that makes you happy. Examples include listening to your favourite song, reading a book or drinking your favourite bubble tea now that they’ve resumed operations. Just limit yourself to two cups a day, well under the daily recommended limit of 300mg. Other activities might include taking a long bath, watching Netflix or catching up with a friend via video call – they get to “meet” your newborn as an added bonus.
While it’s good to leave the house to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in months, which helps with feelings of isolation, be aware of your needs. It’s perfectly fine to reschedule, especially if you’ve been up all night with your baby. Otherwise, head out, even for a short while, with everything you and your baby may need.
Meanwhile, social media is a great resource for you to reach out to other mums. Resources include Facebook groups, Telegram chat groups, or posts shared by other mummy friends. However, if you feel more anxiety at seeing all the perfectly curated photos, focus on your own little one instead, sans phone.
Finally, engage in positive self-talk to be compassionate and understanding towards yourself. Repeat mantras like “I’m doing the best that I can, and that’s enough” or “Baby and I are doing great and I am thankful”. These can help you believe them and improve your mindset. Another good habit to start is to note a couple of things you were most grateful for each day in a gratitude journal. Otherwise, you can also chronicle your baby’s growth in these gorgeous My Beginnings Baby Books.
Build Healthy Relationships
With Your Baby
Learn to bond with your baby as it releases endorphins to make you happier and more confident. Build a secure attachment when you respond consistently to your baby’s needs, soothing your baby when he/she cries, or responding in kind when he/she laughs or smiles.
Stay connected to family and friends, and let your loved ones know how to support you during this time. Share what you’re experiencing, preferably face-to-face (or a video call) with a close friend or family member. Alternatively, join a mother’s support group to share your worries, insecurities and feelings.
With Your Spouse
Don’t neglect your spouse during this time as well – try to schedule some time to spend with him as well. Where possible, avoid lashing out at your partner, and try to work on parenting challenges together. Talk about dividing the household and childcare responsibilities, as well as what you need or how you feel. Finally, schedule some time to spend in each other’s company. If you have help, you could go out for a date, otherwise focusing on each other for 15 to 20 minutes can also help your relationship.
Common Postnatal Conditions
Manifesting primarily as worry, there are also other physical symptoms of anxiety. Some examples include feelings of dread, racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, and changing your eating and sleeping patterns. Other physical symptoms include dizziness, hot flashes, a rapid heartbeat and nausea. This is due to your hormonal and lifestyle changes, including new schedules, responsibilities, and caring for your baby, coupled with sleep deprivation.
Should you feel overwhelmed, let your OB-GYN or paediatrician know so they can address your concerns. They may also refer you to someone who specialises in these mood orders or cognitive behavioural therapy. You’ll also learn relaxation techniques like meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Paired with a healthy exercise regime, this can significantly aid in relieving your anxiety. In more severe cases, antidepressants may also be prescribed.
Some indications you might have postpartum depression include emotional, cognitive and behavioural changes, as well as experiencing exhaustion. For example, you might have severe mood swings, experience persistent sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. You might also have trouble bonding with your baby and feeling inadequate in taking care of your baby.
Other symptoms also include disinterest in your usual activities and decreased energy. You may also want to withdraw from social interactions and find yourself having trouble thinking clearly and making decisions. If this persists beyond the first two weeks, you might have postpartum depression. New fathers may also experience this. Thus, do call your doctor as soon as possible to get treated. Incorporating the good mental health habits above, as well as with therapy or antidepressants can help treat postpartum depression.
A more severe but rarer form of this might be postpartum psychosis. With this condition, you feel confused and disoriented and have obsessive thoughts about your baby. Other symptoms include hallucinations and delusions, excessive energy and agitation, paranoia and attempts to harm yourself or your baby. This requires immediate treatment and you may have to spend some time in hospital to get this treated. Similar to the other conditions above, you’d need antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilisers, followed by therapy sessions.
Where to Seek Treatment
In Singapore, there are several avenues in which you can seek help, such as KKH’s Postnatal Depression Intervention Programme, or join the support group. Other resources include NUH Women’s Emotional Health Service, IMH Mental Health, and Family Service Centre, Counselling and Care Centre, Fei Yue Counselling Centre and Samaritans of Singapore.