Years ago, when I had my third child, I experienced a severe post-partum mood disorder.  I have spent my professional life specializing in the treatment of mood disorders so, having experienced one, I was motivated to attend additional trainings to learn about the risk factors for perinatal mood disorders and how to prevent these illnesses.  I wanted to have another child and I did not want that illness to pop up again.

            Perinatal means around the birth, so perinatal mood disorders are mood disorders that occur during pregnancy, at or after the birth of a baby.  The symptoms are identical to those of other mood disorders.  Some experience depression, other bipolar moods, and still others a variety of anxiety disorders.

            Prevention is centered around self-care and obtaining good support. 

            The first step starts before or in the very early stages of your pregnancy.  It is all about good health, so, start with good nutrition.  Eat organic or non-GMO foods with no added chemicals, avoiding highly processed foods.  Know that refined sugars, white carbs, caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes are to be avoided as they inflame the body.  Anything that inflames the body can inflame your mood.  Medications and vaccines also inflame the body so if they are avoidable, do so.  Good nutrition includes a large variety of foods, including plenty of protein, good fat, and a variety of vegetables and fruits.  Good fats include olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and butter.  The wider variety of foods you eat, the more likely you are to avoid vitamin deficiencies which can create or exacerbate mood disorders.

Create a good routine including exercise, meditation, and a regular sleep routine.  The best routine, if possible, is to exercise in the morning, meditate any time, and sleep between 10 pm and 8 am.  Prior to your pregnancy, 7-9 hours of sleep was enough, now it may not be.  Allow yourself plenty of time for sleep. These things will become even more important as your stomach grows big enough to interfere with your comfort and ability to sleep.  You may need extra pillows and to learn to sleep on your side.

Everyone needs some social time.  The amount of time we need varies according to our temperaments.  Please think about how much you need and make plans to fill your needs.  Getting the right amount of social time is crucial to preventing or escaping depression as well as anxiety.  When someone is fighting mania, they tend to need less social time and it is safer to socialize less or earlier in the day to help one calm down in the evening.

            Please consider natural childbirth and even a home birth if it is an option for you.  Western medicine is not conducive to natural childbirth.  Hospitals are very disruptive to a mother’s sleep and the sterile environment is not relaxing.  Nurses and doctors in traditional settings tend to try to rush delivery as the hospital makes more money that way. A beautiful, non-traumatic birth can not be rushed. Ina Mae Gaskin is a midwife that has written about how to have a beautiful, relaxing birth.  I can not encourage you strongly enough to read her book during your pregnancy (Spiritual Midwifery or Ina Mae’s Guide to Childbirth).  My first three births were not great and led to a severe mood disorder.  For my fourth birth, I read Ina Mae’s book and changed the way I thought about the process of having a baby.  I had my baby girl at home in a pool and I never felt any pain. I wasn’t sure I was in labor because it didn’t hurt.  I needed my midwife to tell me I was dilated to actually believe that it was really happening. No kidding!

            Instead of a baby shower (or in addition), consider having a blessing way.  This is an opportunity for close friends and family to commit to helping and supporting you during the first few weeks or months after the birth of the baby.  In Latin countries, apparently extended family will surround the new mother for 40 days after the birth of a baby, helping with meals and other household responsibilities.  A new baby can absorb the majority of a mother’s time, barely leaving time for self-care and not leaving time for housework.  Many new mothers feel overwhelmed by all these responsibilities and rightfully so.  A new baby could nurse for as long as 20 minutes per side as often as every two hours.  Then they need to be burped and have their diapers changed.  Half of that two hours is gone.  The mother needs time to care for herself to prevent post-partum mood disorders so she needs a good support system to help with meals and housework.  It is essential that she is able to spend some of the baby’s naptime walking, meditating, and possibly doing yoga.  It is also a great idea to meditate while nursing the baby as you will be still for the duration. Hopefully, the baby’s father will understand this and pitch in.  Extended family and friends can also commit to helping.  A diaper service is an excellent gift as well as doula services.

            When it is time to return to work, if that is part of your plan, consider the possibility of returning part-time for a while.  In other countries, women may take up to three years off after the birth of a child, or return to part-time work until the baby’s third birthday.  Think about what you desire and ask for it.  You may not get it in the US, but it is impossible to get it if you don’t ask.

            Taken together, these considerations will go a long way toward preventing peri-natal mood disorders or at least reducing the severity.  With the birth of my daughter, I did experience some symptoms of depression, but I never got clinically depressed due to the plans I put in place to prevent this.  Blessings and I hope you are also able to prevent severe perinatal mood disorders.