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The hidden risk of postpartum depression during quarantine (and how to get help)

Now more than ever, we have to take care of our mental health, particularly new parents.

The hidden risk of postpartum depression during quarantine (and how to get help)

Having a newborn is challenging at the best of times, but during forced isolation and in a climate of fear and uncertainty, it can become overwhelming.

The coronavirus pandemic is setting up our communities for genuine mental health concerns. This may be especially true for new parents. When will 'normal' life return? How will I pay for diapers and baby food? Will my mom be able to help us now? What if my baby or my family get COVID-19? Unfortunately, no one knows the long-term impact or answers just yet.

Most families have built a network of social support by the time they have their first child—if they don't already have a support system, they develop one through various baby classes and groups set up for parents. The creation of the village can be instrumental to the mental health of new parents. Social distancing, the lockdown of cities, and isolation will inadvertently affect the type of support available.


Now more than ever, we have to take care of our mental health, particularly new parents. Postpartum depression will likely rise during this pandemic, so people need to understand what it is and what can be done about it.

What is postpartum depression (PPD)?

Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that occurs among parents or the caretakers of a newborn.

Depression is an unseen illness, which is why it can often go undiagnosed. But certain clues can help identify someone who needs help. There is no one feeling that categorizes depression. Instead, a person can have a range of emotions that may include:

  • Sadness, unhappiness or a low mood for two or more weeks
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of interest to do anything
  • A lack of interest in social life or work
  • Difficulty bonding with their baby
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Frightening thoughts, for example, about hurting their baby*
  • Decreased energy and feeling tired all the time
  • Sleep problems at night or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Irritability, increased emotional reactivity and feelings of guilt

*If you feel like you want to hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1, 24/7 CRISIS Resolve Network (1-888-796-8226), or seek emergency care.

The presence of one of the above does not mean the person is definitely depressed, however. For example, sleep problems and tiredness may be due to taking care of the baby at night, rather than depression. Additionally, difficulty bonding may be due to problems the mom is experiencing with feedings.

It is important not to confuse or attribute these feelings to "just" the baby blues.

  • Feeling tearful, low or emotional
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Feeling anxious

While the baby blues have overlapping symptoms, it is much more prevalent (80% of women will experience the baby blues), but it lasts only 10 to 14 days. If your baby blues symptoms last longer than that, it could be PPD.

(Check out this article for more information on the baby blues: Is it baby blues or postpartum depression? How to tell the difference.)

Ultimately, know that it is not your job to diagnose yourself. All you need to do is get on the phone with a therapist. They can help you figure out if what you are experiencing is typical or if concern is warranted.

What causes postpartum depression?

In short, we don't know exactly.

Researchers and providers have identified risk factors associated with postpartum depression and encourage proactive measures prior to birth for intervention.

Some of the most common associated risk factors are similar to those that have been put into place to keep us safe from the coronavirus:

  • Isolation
  • Lack of support from friends or family
  • Recent stressful life events such as bereavement or being diagnosed with Covid-19
  • A poor relationship with your partner
  • Experiencing the baby blues

People at most risk are those who already have a history of mental health problems, particularly depression, especially if it was present during pregnancy. Furthermore, many people have lost their jobs, paid leaves, and/or medical insurances that impact their postpartum experience for their families. This is an additional new high stressor for many parents with infants during the pandemic.

Why is postpartum depression awareness critical during the pandemic?

Identifying the presence of postpartum depression is essential because undiagnosed PPD will not fix itself or just go away—and it can have devastating consequences: Maternal suicide remains a top cause of death among mothers.

Diagnosis is also important because treatment options for postpartum depression are numerous.

While depression is still under-recognized in most countries, we are seeing some improvements. In recent times, there has been a significant effort to try and remove the stigma around mental health conditions. The fear of being perceived negatively, the fear of the child being taken away, and the societal stigmas, all contribute to why women hesitate to seek help.

If you are concerned that you may have PPD, please speak to a therapist today.

What's important to remember about PPD?

1. It's not your fault; postpartum depression can happen to anyone.

2. Being depressed does not make you a bad parent. Full stop.

3. Babies are only taken into care away from parents in very exceptional circumstances. Almost always, babies stay right with their family as a parent is getting treatment for PPD.

4. It's common. Worldwide, 13% of women will have PPD within the first year of giving birth.

5. It can affect fathers and partners, not just women who gave birth!

6. Depression is an illness like any other visible or physical illness.

What are the common treatment options for PPD?

Most people associate treatment for depression with medication. However, in most cases, medication is not the first line of treatment for depression.

Over the past 40 years, significant research has discovered evidence-based treatment options for depression, and we are now fortunate enough to have a range of very effective options used in the treatment of PPD.

Antidepressant medication

Medication usually takes one to two weeks to work and is continued for at least six months. The exact mechanism is unknown but is believed to work by increasing levels of chemicals, like serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging a person's thought process and patterns in order to avoid cognitive distortions (thoughts, beliefs and attitudes) as well as unhelpful behaviors, such as excessive worry, anxiety, isolation and detachment. This change in perception helps to improve emotional resilience, develop personal coping strategies, and avoid withdrawal.

A recent meta-analysis found no statistically significant difference in effectiveness between second-generation antidepressants and CBT.

CBT tools can be accessed online or face to face with a psychotherapist. CBT apps are also available, such as Catch It and MoodTools - Depression Aid.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a combination of CBT and mindfulness.

Jon Kabat Zins, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, describes mindfulness as "moment by moment awareness, non-judgmentally." The aim is to interact and be aware of one's thoughts that may be unhelpful through meditation. Through mindfulness, a person learns to accept and see unhelpful thoughts, but does not engage with them; this empowers them to not get caught up in any one moment, past or future.

Too often, we get stuck in our past or have excessive worry for our future. Was this the right time to have a baby? Why did I change jobs? What will happen in the future? When will 'normal' life resume? This inadvertently has a direct effect on our present mood and wellbeing.

Evidence shows that people who practice mindfulness meditation report feeling calmer and free from their own emotional baggage. Most importantly, they feel free to be more compassionate to themselves and others.

MBCT was created by Zindel Segal and Mark Williams. Therapy is usually eight weeks long, with sessions once a week. There are six guided meditations that can be found on the mbct.co.uk website that have been recorded by Mark Williams. Alternatively, you can buy the book The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, which includes the Guided Meditation Practices CD.

MBCT is particularly effective in providing people who previously have suffered from depression with the tools to prevent a relapse.

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) was a practice first developed at Yale in 1969 and is considered to be high-impact psychotherapy. Unlike CBT, IPT does not focus on thoughts but instead focuses on the belief that our relationships affect our moods. It is a highly structured program that has been shown to be as effective as medication or CBT.

The goal of IPT is to identify issues and problems in interpersonal relationships; this can be particularly relevant to new parents as 67% of couples see marital satisfaction decrease after having a baby.

IPT aims to teach the skills addressing this, thereby improving relationships, decreasing interpersonal distress, and alleviating depressive feelings.

Behavioral Activation

One of the most straightforward psychological therapies used is Behavioural Activation (BA). BA has been seen to be as effective as CBT but works differently.

Often during depression, people stop doing activities that they used to enjoy and become more withdrawn. This, in turn, reinforces low mood. BA aims to increase your contact with positively rewarding activities. This could be something as simple as returning to those activities that used to have a positive impact on mood. For example, scheduling in Zoom or WhatsApp dates with friends, putting aside time to read the books you enjoy, or taking time out for some self-care.

Self-help

Self-help often suits full-time parents and caretakers, as this does not require fixed appointments.

Self-help is learning done through workbooks, apps or computer courses—it can be guided by a therapist but doesn't have to be. The aim is to empower and provide you with the information and skills to be able to work on your thoughts in your own time.

Reframing expectations of parenthood based on your truths, acknowledging the difficulties of transitioning into a new stage, and giving yourself permission to take breaks can provide emotional relief. Reducing the amount of social media exposure temporarily can also decrease anxieties related to pressure, your mothering identity, and overall well being.

Self-help apps are available, as well as books like The Compassionate Mind Approach to Postnatal Depression by Roslyn Law, which is highly recommended.

Lifestyle changes

Getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising can all contribute to a healthy lifestyle and, in turn, our mental health. An unhealthy lifestyle with excessive alcohol consumption or smoking has been seen to contribute to worsening symptoms of depression.

Exercise helps to improve our mood through the release of endorphins. Walks or runs with your baby in a carrier or stroller are great ways to get a bit more exercise in the day. Depending on where you live, this may be difficult due to different responses to COVID-19, but if possible, parents or carers should try to get out of the house every day, at least for a walk. If not, find a way to get some movement inside.

How to get help for postpartum depression?

The hardest thing by far is making that first step, but once you have, know that we are there to help. Speak to your doctor or midwife, or find a therapist through your insurance company. There are also many telehealth services available. Even in these unprecedented times, most providers are quite apt at doing consultations over the phone.

Here are 5 ways to help friends with PPD during the pandemic

Even if you are not suffering from PPD, a friend might be.

If there is anything we have learned during this pandemic, it is that life and relationships do not just stop—they may look different, but our need for social connection can continue in other forms. Support can be virtual or from a distance.

Here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Phone calls, texts, Zoom, Houseparty, WhatsApp—anything that lets them know you are there for them.
  2. Offer to do their shopping while you do yours.
  3. Leave a homemade meal at the doorstep.
  4. Simply ask them how you can help.
  5. Regularly check up on them and their mental health. Having open discussions on mental health creates a safe space for someone to talk about their worries and concerns and may be more effective in achieving the same outcome.

Please remember that you are not alone in this. Help is available and effective, and you get back to feeling well very soon. For additional support and resources, the experts at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) are here to help.

This article was sponsored by Allegheny Health Network (AHN). Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

14 sweet 'just thinking of you' gifts for every mama

A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs.

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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This incredibly soft comforter from Sunday Citizen is like sleeping on a cloud

My only complaint? I've slept through my alarm twice.

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, there are many factors that, as a mama, are hard to control. Who's going to wet the bed at 3 am, how many times a small person is going to need a sip of water, or the volume of your partner's snoring are total wildcards.

One thing you can control? Tricking out your bed to make it as downright cozy as possible. (And in these times, is there anywhere you want to be than your bed like 75% of the time?)

I've always been a down comforter sort of girl, but after a week of testing the ridiculously plush and aptly named Snug Comforter from Sunday Citizen, a brand that's run by "curators of soft, seekers of chill" who "believe in comfort over everything," it's safe to say I've been converted.

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

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