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How Exercise Can Help Postpartum Depression

A fitness class can do more than get a new mom back in shape.

How Exercise Can Help Postpartum Depression

When we talk about postpartum depression and exercise, the first thing that comes to mind is the aspect of engaging in physical activities, perhaps getting back in shape. But even now that many parents live far away from their families, raising a child still takes a village, and the connections that we get from social media is simply not enough. Sure, a sleep consultant, a nanny, or lactation consultant may help. But interacting #IRL with other women who are experiencing or have experienced the same kinds of anxieties is of utmost importance.

Case in point: a mom recently told me after my postpartum fitness workshop, “This class, every week, is saving my life.” I took it as a compliment, sure, and figured maybe she just really enjoyed being physically active again. But then she told me she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and I listened up.

This mama was outgoing, friendly, and as put together as you can be 10 weeks after giving birth. She was so engaged during the class, I could have never imagined that she was depressed. But as it turns out, postpartum depression isn’t much different from clinical depression: it is hard to detect the burden that rests on people who not only deal with the condition, but also fight hard to hide it from society.

For some women, postpartum depression is a symptom of hormonal imbalance, as they experience a sudden drop in progesterone, estrogen and other hormones after delivery. But for many more women, the demands of having it all and leaning in trigger postpartum anxiety and feelings of isolation, sadness, and failure -- especially for a first-time mom.

So what exactly is at the root of postpartum depression? Here are some (not all) of the issues that have come up during my conversations with new moms:

  1. Returning to work and having to be away from your baby after only 10 weeks.
  2. Dealing with the “whisper wars” and judgements that come within the mom community.
  3. Deciding on sleep training methods.
  4. Having to pump milk, figuring out how much to pump or when to supplement with formula.
  5. Introducing a new childcare provider and maneuvering the separation anxiety that baby experiences.
  6. Re-introducing physical intimacy between the mom and the partner and fearing physical discomfort.

Since learning about some of these triggers, I’ve made compassion and empathy central to my classes. I’ve worked hard to prompt even the most internally driven new moms to work out with others and, in the process, learn that they are not alone in their struggles.

Maybe it’s the intimacy of sweating with one another and feeling like everyone is going through emotional distress, incontinence, leaking breast and hormonal changes to body odor. Or maybe it’s the simple fact of working out, which releases endorphins, helps regain a positive image and, in turn, alleviates some of the heaviness of depression. Either way, I have noticed a difference. In my classes, mothers seem to have let go to the point of roaring belly laughs, cathartic crying in savasana, and ending their workouts in hugs.

So whether you join an exercise class in which you can bring baby or go for a brisk walk with other new moms, the combined benefits of harnessing the physical, the emotional and the psychological will be tenfold.

Have you too suffered from postpartum anxiety? Have you been diagnosed with postpartum depression? If so, tell us in the comments how you were able to overcome it.

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