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How to cope with postpartum ‘baby blues’—from a clinical psychologist

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I wish someone had warned me about day three postpartum.

After I gave birth to my son, I had been coasting along on a hazy, surreal, but blissful, cloud of euphoric love hormones for all of two days, when out of nowhere a metaphorical lightning storm struck me on my sleep-deprived head.

Suddenly, I was overcome with a sense of… well, I can only describe it as a hopeless misery. There was no trigger, no warning or any particular reason for my distress but I felt as though my whole world was ending. I remember walking around my house just sobbing. Everything felt so hopeless and dark, and I didn't have the first clue why or what was wrong.

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I couldn't see things getting better—but couldn't articulate what things. As a clinical psychologist, I was aware of the symptoms of depression, but this felt like something different. It was scary! It scared my husband, too. It scared my husband, too. At one point, as stumped as I was, having exhausted all other options of what could possibly be wrong with me he jokingly asked, "The baby is mine, isn't he?"

For me, these feelings lasted for around three days, peaking around day five, and then just went away. But those three days were a nightmare for me. If I had have known what was coming, I may have been able to lay low and wait it out (preferably with movies and cake).

But I didn't know. No one talks about it. I thought I had ruined my life by having a baby. I thought I was going to feel like this forever. I thought this was what being a mom was going to be like, forever.

All of my existing idiosyncrasies were magnified during this time. My introverted temperament elevated to full-hermit. My senses, already sensitive to excessive noise, light and touch at the best of times, were in complete overdrive during week one postpartum.

If the TV was up too loud, I would be close to panic. I would need to turn down the TV, dim the lights and take some time to breathe in the quiet darkness

This was not lining up with my idealized expectations. Wasn't I supposed to be in bliss-land, subsisting solely on baby snuggles and lullabies?

You're not alone, mama

The reality is that about 70% of women experience something called the "baby blues" after giving birth. It normally rears its ugly head around day three and lasts for a few days—just like it did in my experience. But not one person warned me about it and when I spoke to other moms for this article, they were equally as shocked to discover themselves feeling, shall we say, unstable, on day three (Note: Unstable is a massive understatement).

Research indicates that most women report symptoms, like being really sad, mood swings, insomnia, loss of appetite, and anger, all within the first week after giving birth. Not exactly the magical, dreamy scenario I had painted in my mind.

If the "blues" symptoms are severe, that can be seen as a prodromal stage (risk factor and something to keep a close eye out for) of clinical level postpartum depression later down the track.

The science behind the baby blues

Little had been known about what causes the "baby blues" in the past. There were hypotheses that it might have been because of the sudden loss of freedom, realization of the realities of being a parent, and overall adjustment. But mothers weren't reporting the same symptoms after giving birth to their next children. Surely there was more to it—and there is.

The "baby blues" experience has recently been attributed to the drop in estrogen in the first three days of giving birth, and the increase in the levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A). Levels were found to be up to 43% higher in women who have just given birth than the control group who did not have kids or had had them a long time ago.

The levels of MAO-A were found to hit their peak on around day five postpartum which is consistent with what a lot of moms told me when I asked them about that first week, and indeed how I felt myself. MAO-A's job is to break down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These components greatly influence and regulate our mood.

If not balanced, it causes feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety—even making women more likely to develop more serious mental health disorders.

For most women, the increased levels of MAO-A are temporary and quickly return to normal. But in some cases, they stay raised and this can lead to postpartum depression. If your experience is severe, you aren't coping well, or notice it hasn't gotten better in a few weeks, then it is important to seek help. Your first step should be your general practitioner who will be a wealth of information regarding treatment and referral options. The GP may provide you with medication, counseling suggestions or both and should take your preferences into consideration when it comes to treatment options.

What to do during your first week postpartum

Have realistic expectations and give yourself a break. Now that you know that it is likely that this first week may be pretty tough emotionally, you can plan for it.

  • Ask for help and accept help: Meals, cleaning, errands, debriefing, you name it! Be specific and tell people what you need—your village is alive.
  • Plan to your temperament: Think about how you would like to manage these emotions if they come on. Are you an extrovert who copes with things by having lots of visitors around? Are you an introvert who needs "me time" who should perhaps limit the number of visitors in that first week in case of potential overwhelm? Let people know in advance what you need from them, so you don't have to deal with awkward moments in an already vulnerable time.
  • Create a self-care bag: Fill it with things that generally help you cope with stress—poetry, chocolate, bubble bath, music, crossword puzzles, whatever. Then use it!

Most importantly, remember that you will be okay— this is a physical, relatively normal, hormonal reaction, and will most likely pass very, very soon. If it doesn't or if you are not okay – help is available for you; please ask for it.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"


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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)

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Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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