As I’m crafting this blog, Mother Nature has gifted us a lot of snow…all at once! As beautiful as the white, glistening snowflakes are, this type of weather system can prove to be troublesome for new parents, especially in our neck of the woods.
The postpartum period is a high-risk time for mental health struggles, so much so, that these challenges are considered the number one complication of pregnancy and postpartum. In Simcoe-Muskoka, our rates of postpartum mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.) are quite a bit higher than the provincial average (1 in 3 in our region vs 1 in 5 provincially). These disorders make parenting very challenging – you may feel sad, angry, guilty, exhausted, and irritable. You may have difficulty making decisions, getting motivated, or resting/taking time for yourself. On top of this, many new parents feel immense pressure to parent to perfection– the bar is simply set too high.
I hear you, I see you – you are not alone.
If only we could adopt more traditional cultural practices from around the world, practices that deeply value the sacred postpartum period as a critically important time for birthing people to recover from birth and to bond with baby, a time where birthing people are supported by their family and community – and particularly by other people who take care of the home, the other children and ensure that parents are fed nutritious and nourishing food.
Through the acronym SNOWBALL, here are some helpful tips to help smooth your transition to parenthood during these cold and isolating times.
S – Is for SLEEP. Blessed sleep, a privilege yet a vitally important component in the maintenance of our health and well-being. One fact about the postpartum period is birthing people will get less sleep and some people are more susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, this can negatively affect mood. When new parents can’t get sleep they are more likely to be irritable, more easily overstimulated, and have less capacity to manage their anger.
PLAN: Intentionally planning for birthing people to get sleep in the postpartum period can greatly reduce the risk and improve their adjustment to parenthood. Check out this great resource: A Sleep Plan for Mom https://happyasamother.co/resources
N – Is for Nutrition. We know eating and refueling is important but far too often we hear new parents saying they’re too busy to eat. Simply put – food is vital and feeds our brain. Have you heard about the gut-brain connection? Without getting too ‘sciencey’, our brain and gut (stomach/intestines) are intimately connected – trouble in either area can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress or depression. So as Hippocrates said “Let food by thy medicine.”
PLAN: Eat small meals frequently. Eat when baby eats. If your family or friends are asking if they can do anything, say “Yes! I’d love some yummy nutritious food to store in my freezer, thank you!” Get your family and friends to set up a ‘Meal Train’ and resist the urge to say “no” when people ask to help.
O – Is for Object. Boundaries keep us safe and teach others how to interact with us, help us protect ourselves, and advocate for our needs. Without boundaries, some new parents can suffer from anxiety, resentment, anger, regret, burnout and overwhelm. Setting boundaries in the postpartum period can be challenging but very rewarding for your mental health.
PLAN: Learning early that ‘no’ is a complete sentence can be empowering. Here are some podcasts that may help you learn to set clear boundaries for you and your family.
W – Is for Walking. The benefits of walking and other postpartum exercises are extremely well documented. Exercising three times a week for 20 mins at a time is what is recommended for basic mood support. It certainly is harder when it is cold and snowy but we’re Canadians and this isn’t our first winter. Certainly getting yourself and the kids all dressed up for outdoor adventures can be difficult but the benefit for your mood is long-lasting.
PLAN: Go to mall, many open at 7 am for walking – it’s warm and there’s coffee. Does your local gym have an indoor track? Snowshoeing with baby in a carrier, baby in a sleigh being propelled with parent-power are great ways to get your heart rate up and balance the neurochemicals in your brain thus enhancing your sense of well-being.
B – Is for Baby Breaks. Babies are wonderful. As much as we adore them, every new parents requires time away. Whether that’s to pamper yourself, go for a walk, or to the gym, to catch up with friends for a coffee or just have some much-needed alone time. Your partner or family plays an important role in supporting you to fulfil this task. When new parents take breaks, everyone benefits!
PLAN: Set one hour, one day or one evening a week in the calendar for your baby break. Create a journal and track your mood after the break to provide the evidence to yourself that the break was beneficial and worth doing again.
A – Is for Adult Time. Life after having a baby can become, well, ALL about the baby! Also up there on the list of things new parents worry most about is how their relationship will be affected. It’s easy to fall in the trap of self-enforced lockdown at home – but don’t! Hopefully you will have someone you trust to look after your baby for a few hours once a week, so that the two of you can go out together and re-connect as a couple. And when you are out enjoying your lovely time together – DON’T talk about the baby!
PLAN: Start early and schedule one night a week to keep your relationship strong and the two of you communicating openly. If you don’t have family support or a babysitter, you may want to create a friendship circle so you all benefit from couple time away from the kids while also supporting each other.
L – Is for Liquids. Studies show that even mild dehydration can have a significant impact on your mood, energy, and even your ability to think clearly. We’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. In order to stay properly hydrated, experts advise that we drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water everyday – that’s about 2 litres.
PLAN: Grab those fancy reusable water bottles and keep them filled and with you all day.
L – Is for Laughter. It’s true: laughter is strong medicine. It draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. At times it may seem difficult to muster up positive thoughts and laughter might seem like the last thing you’ll want to do. The truth is, parenting can be really, really hard! And you’ll soon learn that life with a new baby is not always rainbows and sunshine.
PLAN: Whether you watch something on Netflix or You Tube that is guaranteed to make you laugh (my current guilty pleasure is pet compilation videos), or better yet, you and your partner enjoy a laugh together, it is almost guaranteed that you’ll feel a million times better after giving your tummy muscles a good laughter workout.
Parenting is hard and challenging but can also be very rewarding – not all day everyday though, let’s be realistic.
If you are struggling with your mood while parenting, please know you are not alone – there is help and support for you within the region of Simcoe-Muskoka. Check out this guide created by our Regional Perinatal Mental Health Coordinator at OSMH filled with resources and supports to meet all your postpartum mental health needs. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this link page and open the document labelled Perinatal Mental Health and Parent Supports for North Simcoe Muskoka.
Jaime is the Regional Perinatal Mental Health Coordinator with an office at OSMH. She has been a nurse working in the perinatal field for over 20 years. Jaime has lived experience of undiagnosed and untreated perinatal mental health illness – she advocates locally, provincially and federally to increase timely access to perinatal mental health services.