How being active helped me recover from postpartum depression

I’m grateful to be a mother. I have two amazing boys who are nine and 14. However, my journey into motherhood was not as smooth as I expected. I always knew that having children could be life-changing, but I didn’t anticipate what would happen to me before, during, and after my first pregnancy. My diagnosis with postpartum depression (PPD) came as the biggest shock of new motherhood. What followed was a long journey to recovery, and a critical part of that would be creating an active lifestyle for my baby and me.

Diagnosis journey—from pregnancy to eight weeks postpartum

My journey began before I even had my son. It started with severe anxiety around doctors’ appointments and obsessions over baby gates. One of my friends who was already a mom laughed at me, saying I wouldn’t need a baby gate until six months after I gave birth, but I continued with my obsessive thinking patterns.

Then came a rough delivery. My son was delivered by emergency C-section, after which I mourned the “natural birth” I never got to experience. When it came time to leave the hospital, I was so afraid that I asked not to be discharged. I was unprepared for the post-surgery pain I felt and was freaking out about not having mastered breastfeeding yet.

Behind the scenes, my husband reassured the nurses that I was okay and that we would all feel better when settled at home.

I arrived home to find my mother-in-law waiting in the driveway with food, balloons, and well wishes. That night, I had my first panic attack. I thought I was having a heart attack. The next day, a public health nurse visited our home. She reassured me that I didn’t have a heart problem, and informed me that it was likely a panic attack.

Identifying differences between “baby blues” and PPD

It is common for moms to get the “baby blues” mixed up with PPD. The early symptoms are similar, so it can delay a diagnosis because you think the feelings will go away.

If you are a new parent and think you might have PPD, don’t be afraid to talk to your physician or public health nurse. It could be the most important thing you do for yourself and your baby.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and Depression Hurts provide resources for people struggling with mental health issues. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 911 for immediate help.

The nurse visit was part of a City of Toronto program that provided support to new moms. Sadly, it didn’t include any pamphlets or information on PPD. It would be a long time before I figured out that I had PPD—and only because my cousin made me see my family doctor.

You might also like: The 10 most important things I learned during my baby’s first year

By my six-week postpartum checkup, I knew something was wrong. I was having difficulty sleeping when my baby son slept and I felt like I was slowly going insane. Panic attacks were more frequent. I confided in my obstetrician, but unfortunately, and somewhat shockingly, she was not trained to recognize or support PPD. Now I didn’t know where to turn.

Did you know? Postpartum depression affects 15 percent of Canadian women.

I confided in my mom and my husband but I felt like they didn’t understand what I was experiencing and that they were making light of it. Everyone around me seemed to be in denial. They figured that being a new parent is tough for anyone, so feeling down was just normal and not necessarily a sign of depression. But my cousin, also a new mom, knew me well, and she could see that something was wrong.

The road to recovery—getting out of isolation and being active

With my cousin’s encouragement, I went to see my family doctor and I was finally diagnosed with PPD. I started taking medication, and began to slowly feel like my old self again. Even on medication, I was able to continue to breastfeed safely. I became able to sleep when my baby was sleeping and I felt a lot better. Still, I discovered that being a new mom was very isolating, and that made recovery hard.

I remember calling my husband the day he returned to work, telling him I was lonely. I joked that I wanted him to stay at home and let me go back to work.

I soon discovered that the key to not feeling isolated was actually pretty simple: I needed to get out and meet other new parents. I started going to the Ontario Early Years Centres with my son and participated in “Baby and Me” exercise classes. I also joined a support group for postpartum depression. Through all of these activities, I made new friends who joined me for walks and visits to storytime at the library and bookstore.

It made a huge difference. The health benefits of our shared exercise proved to be great for my son and I. It reduced my anxiety and I found that he was less fussy and slept better.

“Exercise gets your endorphins going, which helps alleviate depression symptoms,” says Aaptiv trainer and pre- and postnatal corrective exercise specialist Candice Cunningham.

Here are some activities that worked for me:

  • Long walks to the park where I would pull out a blanket and play with my son, encouraging his exercise and tummy time.
  • Participating in exercise classes at my local gym, which had a daycare program on site. My son would play while I exercised.
  • Participating in baby yoga classes eased my anxiety and supported fun bonding with him.
  • Using hand weights at home helped me to build my strength. While doing this, I would make funny faces at my son, making it a playful activity.
  • Hiking in nature with him in a baby carrier would lift my mood.

In the end, I conquered my PPD and became a confident and happy mother. However, it was a long and difficult journey and one that could have been easier if more support had been available to me from the beginning. I’m stronger for this experience. I don’t regret having lived with PPD—it helped me to find my voice, fine-tune my priorities, and ultimately increased the bonds I have with my family.

My lessons learned to help moms with PPD

  • Have a birth plan but prepare yourself for the possibility of an alternative experience.
  • Know the warning signs and the differences between PPD and the baby blues.
  • Seek medical support and counselling so that you confide in others outside of your immediate family and friends. Be honest: sharing feelings both good and bad will help aid in your recovery.
  • Embrace an active lifestyle. Exercise with your baby and connect with other parents. The fresh air and movement will help you feel better and reduce feelings of isolation.

You might also like: How to give your baby an active start

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