Therapists often remind mothers with postpartum depression of the instructions given to airplane passengers about oxygen masks. If you're traveling with a child, you're told to put on your own mask before putting one on your child. You can't help your kid if you've passed out due to lack of oxygen. It's the same principle with depression: Do what's best for yourself so you can do what's best for your baby.
Getting help on your own terms
"Lack of social support can contribute to postpartum depression," says Ann Dunnewold, PhD, a Dallas-based psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression. "And more social support is critical in making it better."
The key, she adds, is to have it on your own terms. "Sometimes the mother-in-law will come over to be with the baby, but what the new mom needs is for her to do the laundry. To help, everyone needs to ask themselves what the mom really wants."
Amy Sky, 47, of Toronto, could write a book on the importance of social support after childbirth. After suffering harrowing postpartum depression with her first child, during which she had her husband's support but no professional assistance, she took careful steps to avoid the same circumstances.
She hired a midwife who had experience with postpartum depression to assist her with the birth, hired a housekeeper and a nurse, and committed to staying in bed for six weeks after the baby was born. "I planned on just nursing and sleeping, and let nature take its course," she says.
Investing in household help paid off
While she did suffer postpartum depression again, "My symptoms were about 30% as severe as the first time. This time instead of being afraid that I was losing my mind, I just regarded the episodes as temporary symptoms that would pass."
Support groups, psychoeducational groups, and parenting groups can also be enormously helpful, says Ruta Nonacs, MD, associate director of the Center for Women's Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Suzanne, 35, from New Paltz, N.Y., says that rest is the key thing, at least for her. "My older one was still getting up at night when I got sick. This was a huge role for me to play. After we realized that I had this disorder, my husband took over at dinnertime and at night," she says.
When Katherine Stone, 38, of Atlanta, had her second child, she decided against breast-feeding so that she could rest properly. She and her husband adopted a two nights on/two nights off schedule. "I got full night's sleep two nights in a row. I really benefited from the guaranteed time," Stone says.