About one in seven women experience postpartum depression (PPD) after giving birth, though this rate may be underreported. PPD, along with a similar condition called postpartum anxiety (PPA), can have serious negative effects on mother-baby attachment, child care, other relationships, and the mother’s quality of life.
Here are three things that could curb PPD risk, according to recent research.
- Honor the “Golden Hour.”
The first 60 minutes of a child’s life outside the womb are crucial for his or her wellbeing, and for the mother’s. Evidence suggests that when mom and baby get skin-to-skin contact during this “golden hour,” it can improve breastfeeding and help regulate the baby’s body temperature and blood sugar. This bonding time may also reduce infant fussiness and improve sleep. It can also help the mother produce hormones that can reduce anxiety and depression.
During the first hour after birth—or even longer, if possible—providers should postpone procedures such as cleaning the newborn or drawing blood for testing. When this is not possible, such as after a C-section or if the baby is having difficulty breathing, the child should have skin-to-skin contact with the mother as soon as he or she is stabilized.
- Go “green.”
We’ve previously touched on the value of green spaces for physical and mental health, and those benefits apply to new moms, as well. Researchers recently wrote in The Lancet Regional Health—Americas that exposure to green space, especially trees, coupled with physical activity, can help reduce PPD risk.
The researchers noted that there were other associated benefits to greener spaces. Neighborhoods with many trees tend to be quieter and safer, which can reduce stress and anxiety. They may also be less prone to pollution. Behavioral health providers should encourage pregnant women to participate in light exercise, even just walking, in a park or neighborhood with numerous trees to take advantage of the benefits of green spaces.
- Don’t ignore Dad.
New moms aren’t the only ones who can be affected by PPD or PPA. Unfortunately, their partners may also have mental health difficulties during the postpartum period. Lack of sleep, hormonal changes, difficulty adjusting to the new baby, and the stress of observing childbirth can cause 10 percent or more of male partners to experience PPD symptoms. The risk is higher in men who experienced depression or anxiety symptoms before the birth.
Men who experience PPD may feel isolated, guilty for going back to work, and unable to participate in childcare to the same degree as the mother. They may feel overlooked by health providers or struggle to bond with their new baby. This can create further stress for the mother, hinder infant care, and strain their relationship. Increased awareness and screening for new fathers can help identify those with PPD symptoms and get them effective treatment options, such as counseling.
Pregnancy is a challenging time for women and their partners. Behavioral health providers can help raise awareness of PPD in both men and women, encourage healthy lifestyle habits, and connect families to resources that can help reduce stress and improve infant care.
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