Q: Is there anything I can do to avoid postpartum depression?
A: Postpartum depression (or PPD) is a mood disorder that sets in within a few months of having a baby and affects 10 to 20 percent of new moms. It can affect anyone, but there are certain factors that make some women more vulnerable. If you've been depressed before (especially during pregnancy), tend to get very severe PMS, have a super type-A personality, or had a stressful pregnancy (because of major life changes like a death in the family or moving to a new home), you may be more likely to experience PPD.
Either way, it's important for you and your partner to become familiar with the symptoms of PPD so you can get help promptly. The biggest signs include trouble sleeping, feelings of hopelessness and guilt, loss of interest in daily activities, and having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. It's common for all women to feel some type of baby blues in the first few weeks after giving birth, but this isn't necessarily true depression. Talking to your pediatrician or ob-gyn can help you figure out the difference, and your doctor can refer you to counseling if necessary.
In the meantime, don't be afraid to ask for help at home -- from your husband, friends, parents, and anyone who offers. Don't just shrug off your feelings; instead, delegate specific chores, like washing all those new baby onesies or hitting the drugstore to stock up on more diapers, to keep your plate as clear and stress-free as possible. The key is to get a helping hand before you start to feel overwhelmed.
Sometimes being home alone with a newborn all day can feel very isolating. Joining a new-mom support group can also help prevent PPD and give you an outlet to vent your new-mom fears and frustrations. Consider hooking up with some of the women from your childbirth classes or other new mothers in your neighborhood. You can also reach out to other moms on our message boards. -- Peg Rosen