A baby sits in a crib. The mother sits near the crib and appears upset.
Having a ready list of friends and family to help out can make all the difference for new moms on those overwhelming days. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There’s no shortage of official and unofficial celebrations throughout the year, with different days and months designated for this cause or that.

Some days feel like marketing vehicles as much as cultural celebrations, such as national donut day or national taco day.

Other celebrations are rooted in promotions of careers or important social or medical causes, such as national nurse’s week and autism awareness month.

The organization Postpartum Support International has designated the month of May maternal depression awareness month.

In previous posts on this topic, we’ve explored tips for new moms and touched on possible ways family members and friends can help as new moms adjust to life after childbirth.

There’s little doubt that Mother’s Day played some role in choosing May as national maternal depression awareness month.

The campaign encourages people to share stories and seek help when they’re feeling down.

According to Postpartum Support International, untreated depression is the No. 1 complication in pregnancy and about 1 in 7 moms experience postpartum depression, but only about 15% seek treatment. The organization also feels that many new moms aren’t asked about how they are feeling emotionally.

I can say with confidence that at Spectrum Health family birthing centers, moms take a postpartum depression screening before they leave the hospital and often another at their postpartum follow-up visit.

The postpartum period from birth until the baby is about 3 months old is often considered the fourth trimester—essentially still part of the pregnancy period.

In those few short months, a mom’s body is still adjusting from a pregnant state to a non-pregnant state.

Here are some things new moms can do after having a baby:

Lifestyle focus

  • Take time for naps or occasional rest breaks. It’s not always possible to sleep, but if baby is sleeping, take that time to do something for yourself—read a book, watch a movie, take a bath or whatever you enjoy.
  • Don’t set high expectations for yourself for a while. I like to tell patients in class to think of their Top 3 things they need everyday, then pick one and share with their spouse. That one thing is the goal for the first two weeks.
  • Set limits with visitors so they don’t overstay their welcome.
  • Create a list of things that family, friends and others can do to help out.
  • Get outside for a short walk. Just a little basic exercise outside can really help you feel better.
  • Be open about how you feel with your partner.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others—especially on social media.
  • Expect to have some good days and some bad days.

Nutrition goals

  • Eat every few hours. Healthy food choices impact how we feel.
  • During pregnancy, consumption of foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate postpartum depression symptoms.
  • Your body mass index, or BMI, can affect anxiety and depression. One study showed that overweight women were at risk of elevated anxiety and depression at both four months postpartum and 14 months postpartum. (Interestingly, BMI wasn’t noted to affect anxiety levels during pregnancy.)

Seeking help

  • Look for support from family and friends. Avoid anyone who discourages or seems to bring you down.
  • Keep your postpartum appointment with your provider and call with any concerns that arise.
  • See if there is a postpartum depression group or mood disorder support group in your community.
  • Remember that dads can also experience postpartum depression symptoms—so be sure to keep an eye on dad’s mood, too.

Focus on baby

  • Strengthen your bond with your baby with skin-to-skin contact. This benefits both mom and baby—and dad, too.
  • An infant massage is great for bonding. It has been shown to decrease postpartum depression symptoms.
  • Smile, sing and talk to your baby regularly.

If you feel you have postpartum depression, you should call your OB provider.