When our first child was a few weeks old, my husband and I were struggling to get dinner on the table. Exhausted and overwhelmed, he looked at me and said, “How do parents get anything done?” How indeed, I wondered for weeks, struggling at home without help. I felt tired, lonely and a tad frustrated with my husband. Turns out these feelings are all too common. They can be dangerous, too.
“Moms who are sleep deprived, socially isolated or have poor partner support are all at a higher risk for postpartum depression [PPD],” explains Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., author of 2007’s Postpartum Depression for Dummies and Pregnant on Prozac. But even if you don’t end up clinically depressed, it’s hard to enjoy your new baby when you’re exhausted, lonely and frustrated with your marriage.
But there are steps you can take before your baby is born—even before your due date—to be better prepared for these challenges. Here’s what’s been shown to work:
Before you give birth, put a plan into action so you don’t end up spending too much time at home by yourself with the baby. “If a mother is in charge day in and day out for eight hours or more per day, she is at high risk for PPD,” Bennett says. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists identifies lack of support from others as a major factor in PPD.
Although the web and e-mail provide plenty of opportunities for networking and support, you need to get out of the house and interact with real live people on a regular basis. “Before babies, we had meetings to go to and people to see,” explains Heather Gibbs Flett, co-author of 2008’s The Rookie Mom’s Handbook. “It can be very disorienting to have the whole day as a blank slate before you.”
Organize a new-mothers’ group. Make a commitment to meet regularly: You’ll be more likely to follow through. Childbirth-ed classes, La Leche League (which welcomes pregnant women) and breastfeeding support stores are great ways to meet other moms-to-be who are due around the same time as you.
Hang a large wall calendar in a prominent location. Get used to scheduling activities into your days now, while you still know what day it is. “If you don’t schedule time for yourself on a regular basis so that you can count on it and look forward to it, you’re asking for trouble,” says Bennett.
The Parent Trap
Ninety-two percent of the men and women in a prominent study of new parents reported experiencing more conflict in their marriage after bringing baby home. The division of labor was, by far, the No. 1 cause of trouble.