throwing a baby up in the air and catching her

Can You Fight Postpartum Depression Before Birth? Here Are 5 Ways I Tried.

We planned to get pregnant. I dutifully took my temperature each morning and peed on ovulation sticks each month. And when one line became two, we cried a little and laughed a little and started filling my wine glass with sparkling water.

But by my second month, I was struggling. Mentally and physically, I was like a walking bowling pin filled with unpredictable hormone levels. It seemed my body was rejecting the small alien in its belly, as evidenced by the way it emptied said belly four, five — sometimes ten — times a day. 

While I regained my mental footing in my second trimester, I was petrified I would experience postpartum depression and anxiety. How could I get out of a dark pit while attempting to love and care for a tiny human?

To ease my worry, I Googled, “ways to fight postpartum depression before birth.”

Worst. Idea. Ever.

The sparseness of advice left me feeling even more helpless and alone. I asked fellow moms what they did. Crickets. I talked to my doctor about it. She assured me I was doing all I could. 

I wasn’t satisfied. I was going to take matters into my own hands. I was going to stop postpartum depression in its tracks. Or so I thought.

I wish I could tell you my approach was 100 percent effective. I wish I could claim the steps I took would work for everyone. Everyday. All the time. That they’d eliminate risk factors and all symptoms of postpartum depression.  I can’t.

What I can tell you is that each one of these things helped me post-birth. They still do (7-ish months later). Because when I’m rocking a perfume of spit-up and rising to the alarm clock of a screaming child, I need all the help I can get.

5 Ways I Fought Postpartum Depression While Pregnant

1. I Learned to Meditate 

After birth, my memory resembled a mosh pit that I navigated by sticky notes and chocolate chips. Despite this fact, there were moments my mind wouldn’t stop racing. Namely, these occurred at 3 AM after I’d just finished my fifth feed and finally gotten my daughter to stop screaming like a banshee.

It is at these times when meditating was a Godsend. Slowing my breath and focusing on one single thought helped me calm my mind enough to sleep — at least until the next feeding session.

2. I Put My Digital Calendar to Use

In my third trimester, I spent my free time finding jokes and writing personal affirmations. They included things like, “Is she still alive? Then you’re doing great!” and “Just keep smiling. Just keep smiling.” I then scheduled these as calendar events, with alerts) throughout the weeks following my due date.

Sure, a few positive words or a funny joke didn’t turn tears into laughter. But in the moments when I’m was a little ho-hum, they offered me a pick-me-up. 

3. I Researched Ways (and Places) to Be Active 

This was one of the biggest for me. Physical activity has always been a way I’ve combatted depression. Those natural endorphins are no joke. The problem was, walking was the recommended activity for the first six weeks. Just walking. That’s it. And initially, it was suggested I stick to flat surfaces. 

Flat surfaces turned out to be good advice, especially for the first month. During those initial days, every step felt like the stitches in my nether regions were being ripped out.

The problem was, we lived at the base of a mountain. Even our yard had hills. So prior to our daughter’s birth, I started a list of flat walks near our home. I set some guidelines for myself. The walks needed to have secure parking and be at least one mile in length. Bonus points were awarded to trails located near drive-through coffee stands. Extra love was shown to those that had covered portions.

4. I Wrapped Myself a Present and a Card

I’d never been a huge shopper, but the moment I found out I was pregnant, I developed an irrational desire to buy every cute — non-maternity — Target outfit. It felt like somehow investing in crop tops and workout pants would keep my body from turning into a gumball machine. It didn’t.

But the more I resisted the urge to shop, the greater my desire became. I got teary-eyed over the delicate buttons on summer dresses. Sparkly graphic tees called to me like a double mocha frappuccino. Giving in just a little ended up being the mental release I needed while I was pregnant. And, it awarded me a much-appreciated mental pick-me-up after birth.

I had bought a set of my favorite workout gear by JoyLab. They’d come out in a brand new color I loved. It sat wrapped in my closet with fun ribbons and a card for the first 7 months. Knowing it was there was like an insurance policy. Something entirely for me to look forward to.

And when I finally decided to treat myself, it was such fun!

5. I Told My Tribe Why I Was Afraid

For a while, I was afraid of being a mommy. Every part of it filled me with dread. Would I lose myself? How would I handle sleep deprivation? Would I bond with my daughter? Would I be a good wife?

The more I let those fears bounce around my head, the bigger they grew. Then a fellow new momma asked, “What are you really afraid of?” 

I suddenly had permission to share. To tell someone I really didn’t know how to change a diaper. To vocalize my deep-seated need for physical activity. To admit I was petrified about how this little girl would affect my marriage. 

Putting those fears into words helped me calm down. It also gave my tribe a better understanding of how to be helpful post-birth. They asked me how I was doing. They cheered for me when something went well. And, they showed up mentally and physically for me so I could have a break.

Support groups don’t make you weak. Support groups are a source of strength. They’re a space where the mothers experience can be shared and understood. They’re a chance for us new moms to realize we’re not alone and discover ways to overcome issues we’re encountering. 

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