PPD triggers and how to overcome them

First, thank you so much for the response on my last post about my experience with PPD! So many of you reached out to offer support or identified with the purpose, and it really means so much to me!  I wanted to offer a little more insight into triggers and risk factors, as well as touch on some “plans” you can make with your support system to help overcome these triggers.  Some of you may think it will be difficult to involve your partner, or maybe you and your partner are at odds with the adjustment into parenthood and you think they don’t “get it”.  Let me say, usually, by the time you realize you are struggling, your partner and support system have already seen it.  They see you struggling, they realize you don’t seem the same, they are hurting for you and they want to see you back to the YOU you used to be.  So let’s just jump in!

One of the biggest risk factors or triggers centers on feeding your baby.  I will always support fed is best! I think any mother who has struggled to get their kid to eat in any way would agree intellectually, but emotionally that thought can be very difficult.  Listen up y’all, breastfeeding is HARD.  If it came easy to you that your baby latched and your milk came in and you never had an issue, then count your lucky stars, because you are the exception, not the rule.  The rule is that breast feeding is a pain in the ass.  Latch issues, a starving baby, flat nipples, a tongue tie, low milk supply, high lipase milk, milk allergies.  Or maybe you decided to bottle feed, but you still have lingering feelings of guilt and doubt, or experience disapproval from others.  These are just a few of the issues many moms face, and often they face more than one of these things! I imagine if you’re reading this, you’ve been there, so I don’t need to keep going, but yes, feeding your baby is a huge risk factor for postpartum depression.  So what do you do? You’ve seen every lactation specialist, read every message board, asked all your friends, googled the shit out of feeding habits, and you are still struggling.

  • You aren’t alone. Joining a support group or breast feeding support group may give you tremendous satisfaction just to hear that others are struggling.  It is always nice to know others have experienced what  you’re experiencing, especially as a mom.
  • Be honest and transparent with your partner.  My husband used to say “let’s just give him formula”, like oh its that simple.  In reality, it really is that simple, but he could not comprehend the layers of emotions I was feeling associated with that simple decision. You can say “I feel guilty that I (cannot make milk, cannot get baby to latch, etc).  I want to breast feed and I feel like I am a failure to our baby.  I worry I won’t bond as well with the baby if he cannot rely on me for food.” Whatever your reality is, try to make your partner understand.  It is okay to say “I don’t know why I feel this way, but these are my feelings, and I am really struggling.”
  • Tell your partner they can help you by saying things such as “You are doing/have done such a great job feeding our baby.  I see how hard you are working to be able to breast feed and I appreciate how dedicated you are.” Or if you’re bottle feeding, they can support your decision by saying “Thank you for giving me the chance to feed our baby.  It really helps me understand how much thought you’ve put in to feeding our baby and I appreciate you.”
  • Most importantly, give yourself grace and positive affirmations.  Tell yourself “I love my baby.  I am choosing this because it is the best for my baby. I am a good mom.” Whatever your mantra is, tell your partner and practice saying it with each feeding until you’re believing “YEAH I’M A BADASS!”

Another trigger for PPD is lack of sleep.  I worked as a night shift nurse for several years before having kids, so my sleep schedule was already whack.  But for many people who are used to sleeping normal hours at night, the adjustment into broken sleep and/or a significant decrease in sleep hours can really mess with your body’s ability to cope with the many aspects of new parenthood you are now having to adjust to.  If your baby immediately gained weight, had no other underlying issues, and started sleeping through the night instantly, you are the exception, not the rule (and I think I speak for everyone when I say please shut up about how good your baby is sleeping.  Like I’m happy for you but also sleep deprived and dangerous).  So talk to your partner and make a sleep plan. It’s not always going to be an equal division, but sharing in the responsibilities is important, and giving your partner a chance to experience things as you do and vice versa is crucial.

  • A lot of moms are hesitant to ask their partners for help when it comes to sleep because maybe they’re the one who is “working” while you are at home.  But having a baby is an equal partnership.  You can say “I am really struggling with being up all night and having to keep the house during the day.  I need your help at night (or with household tasks) so that I can get some rest too.”
  • Set an early bed time.  I’m talking even like 7 or 8 o’clock.  If there are household tasks that will help you for the next day, tell your spouse specifically what needs to be done (dishes, a load of laundry, etc.)
  • I’m a night owl and my husband likes to wake up stupid early.  So we kinda set a plan where I stay up later or deal with early night time wakings, while my husband would get a stint of sleep.  Then when the baby would wake up at 5 or 6 to start the day, my husband would get up and take care of him while I slept in.  This allowed us both to get a 6 or 7 hour stretch, just in split shifts.
  • If you are breastfeeding through the night, have your partner do diaper changes and grab you water while you breast feed.  Or even build in a pumping session/supplement so your partner can offer a bottle while you catch even more sleep.
  • Remember this isn’t a forever arrangement! If you or your partner get frustrated you can revisit these “terms”.  These are simply solutions and ideas to get you through the struggling periods as you recover.

Alright well this is already way longer than I intended it to be so I will do one more.  I can’t write a blog and put it on instagram without talking about expectations vs reality, and the detrimental role social media can play in postpartum.  And it starts at the beginning.  You think you’re going to be a glowing goddess during pregnancy…but you’re not.  You see women naturally going in to labor and think you won’t go two weeks overdue…but you do.  You see pictures of moms easily breast feeding or talking about their glorious breast feeding experience, and think it will happen that way for you too…but it doesn’t.  Or maybe it’s not even on social media but it is the collective experience of your friends.  And they all had easy pregnancies and vaginal deliveries and seem so happy.  You were sick the whole time, labored for 24 hours and had an emergency c-section and you feel like motherhood is a mistake.  Your expectations for motherhood can set you up for PPD because it is such a hard adjustment.  Believing that every one else loves motherhood and can balance it all so easily can add to feelings of guilt or inadequacy that you may already be feeling.  There is a lot going around right now about “fake” and “real” social media, and all I will say is that it is everyone’s highlight reel.  It is the best of the best and the moments of their lives that they want to preserve, whether it resonates with you or not. So if you feel like those around you have it all while you are floundering, here are a few things to remember.

  • Unfollow those accounts that stress you the hell out and make you feel like you need to have it all together or stay off social media completely!  If it is causing YOU some anxiety to see those accounts, then you need to distance yourself from them.
  • Again, consider a support group.  Find other moms who are living in your version of motherhood and connect with them.  Break that isolation.
  • And again, be transparent about how you’re feeling with your support system.  It is okay to say “I don’t know why or what is wrong with me, but I am not coping well.”
  • Realize that YOU ARE NOT A BAD MOM.  Your struggle does not make you weak or inadequate or less than.
  • Set small goals instead of big picture ideas so you do not feel let down. Like instead of saying “I’m going to clean the whole house today while the baby naps”, say “I’m going to spend 30 minutes of nap time working on the laundry.” Break the day down into tasks such as a morning goal, an afternoon goal, and an evening goal so that you have a generous and flexible time line. And bonus tip, you can do this with your own self care goals as well so that you find little moments throughout the day to refocus on yourself

Okay, this got a bit wordy, so my bad. Is there anything else you all would be interested to hear about relating to postpartum depression? Hopefully, you’ve found these tips helpful or it has at least gotten you thinking about ways in which you can help yourself. As always, leave a comment/dm me with any questions or thoughts and let’s all help one another!

2 thoughts on “PPD triggers and how to overcome them

  1. Thank you for writing this. It put me at ease that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Many of these that you listed were also my triggers! I don’t know why but the thing that got me the most was the reality that many of our loved ones that surrounds us probably have known before we FULLY realize we have PPD and that we just need to put our guard down and allow help from our community. Support groups have helped me immensely! sending my love and prayers to you, beautiful mama!

  2. Ashley, I’m really enjoying this little series of yours. I think you’re especially qualified to speak to what’s normal vs. not for breastfeeding, sleep, etc. given your experience as a nurse. I appreciate hearing all you have to share!


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