The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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* You experience something very stressful The death of a family member or friend, a divorce, a major injury or medical diagnosis, a job layoff or even a move to a new home can raise anyone’s depression risk for about a year. But the added challenges of pregnancy, delivery and parenting an infant during that period may push you over the edge, according to Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Health System and an expert in women’s reproductive mental health issues.
Prepare yourself: If possible, avoid making big life changes, such as moving, during pregnancy and the postpartum period, Muzik says. If you can’t, alleviate the physical and emotional strain by using such stress-reduction techniques as meditation, visualization, moderate exercise and prenatal yoga. Get plenty of rest and pay special attention to carving out time to relax and spend time with loved ones. If you’ve experienced a loss, get help coping by asking friends for extra emotional support or by talking with a therapist or grief counselor.
* You're a perfectionist “Perfectionism is a risk factor for postpartum depression,” says Kim Zittel, Ph.D., M.S.W., an assistant professor in the social work department at Buffalo State College in New York and author of Postpartum Mood Disorders: A Guide for Medical, Mental Health, and Other Support Providers (NASW Press). A perfectionist may have completely unrealistic expectations, picturing herself as the perfect mother, her partner as a model father and their baby as an absolute angel. But when reality hits, Zittel says, she can be thrown off her axis and start blaming herself for the normal problems that inevitably arise. “Pregnancy and birth can be out-of-control experiences,” Muzik explains. “Having rigid expectations and being a perfectionist may be a risk for a more difficult transition.”
Prepare yourself: First, identify some of your perfectionist expectations about parenting. Then use visualization to give yourself a reality check about them and envision good-enough alternatives. For example, say you plan to deliver your baby naturally. Picture an intervention-filled delivery that is exactly what you don’t want, Zittel suggests. Then, visualize that you and your baby are just fine even though delivery didn’t go quite the way you expected it. “Recognize that you will have to lower your standards and adjust to the baby rather than expect the baby to live up to your standards,” O’Hara says.
* You will be making a major job change “Role transition can be very stressful,” Muzik says. Whether you’re quitting your job to be a stay-at-home mother, swapping a high-powered career for a lower-status position or choosing to work from home instead of commuting to the office, a big change in your role can cause emotional upheaval or depression. Women who go back to work when they’d rather stay home are also vulnerable to depression, Muzik adds.
Prepare yourself: Spend some time visualizing—and planning for—the difficulties of the transition, Zittel suggests. For example, if you’re quitting work to stay at home with your baby, acknowledge that there will be days when you will feel lonely because you’ll be stuck in the house with a crying infant. Make connections now with other stay-at-home moms so you can get together for coffee or walks. If you’re downgrading to the slow lane in your career for a while, focus on how this will benefit you and your baby rather than on its potential negative effect on your professional life, Zittel says. Plan to maintain relationships with influential co-workers so you can hop back into the fast lane when your baby is older.