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Yoga and Postpartum Depression

Pauline Schloesser, Ph.D., Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher, IAYT Yoga Therapist

After you have a baby, your whole world changes. You may not be getting good rest or sufficient nutrition. Your hormones have taken a roller coaster ride, and you may feel “not yourself”. It’s normal to feel a bit like a stranger in your “new” body. Sometimes there is sadness in the recognition that the body has been drastically changed, or simply because you’re exhausted.

Life has changed, and you must adapt. I remember my older sister saying to me, after the birth of my first baby, “remember this– you can function as a zombie!”

Even if you mentally accept the fatigue of parenting and you’re okay with your bodily changes, you may crave the opportunity to be by yourself—-to take a shower, read a book, practice art, or do anything for yourself without being encumbered by your beautiful, and completely dependent, baby.

It’s important to be aware of your mental health. Maternal mental health problems in the first year of a child’s life exhibit a range–from “baby blues” to psychosis, with various symptoms listed below.

  • Baby blues: mood swings, crying spells, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, lasting up to two weeks after birth. (Common, up to 80% of all moms)

 

  • Postpartum depression: long term depressed mood, irritability, inability to bond with the baby, loss of appetite, insomnia, diminished capacity to think clearly, anger, panic attacks, constant worry that you’re not a good mother, thoughts of suicide (Less common, up to 20% of moms)

 

  • Postpartum psychosis: confusion, hallucinations, paranoia, attempts at self-harm or harming others. (Rare, 1 to 2 cases per 1000 births) (2)

Postpartum depression can also manifest for fathers and adoptive parents. Studies have shown that about 10% of fathers experience symptoms of depression during the postpartum period.

For some parents, admitting the need for time alone is difficult. With extra work to do and bills to pay, taking time for oneself can feel “selfish”. But this is exactly what is needed!

So the first step is to realize that without maternal health, the family does not thrive. Maternal depression is linked to social, behavioral, and cognitive problems in children from infancy to adulthood (1).

So as a parent, you must take care of your mental health and be proactive to ward off depression and anxiety—particularly if you have a history of anxiety or depression prior to pregnancy.

Carve out time for yourself by getting support from your spouse, hiring help (babysitter, housekeeper), and ordering groceries or meal kits online.

Once you carve out some “me time,” how will you spend it? I know a lot of women will choose to get their nails done, have a massage, or go shopping or to the gym. All of these are likely to have a positive effect, but it will be temporary.

One of the best investments you can make with your time and money is to practice Iyengar yoga.

At Alcove Yoga, The Women’s Essentials Class provides a nourishing sequence for women’s health and well-being.

Those of you who have not been back since you had your baby: Try to recall how well you felt after class. How connected you felt to your own body, and to other women. How safe you felt knowing that you were being watched, given correction, and taught by an experienced practitioner. It’s time to get back into a yoga practice!

And the effects of yoga practice are longer lasting than a massage or mani-pedi. Yoga once per week could be the highlight of your week and may be enough if you practice at home as well. Yoga class twice per week will have a greater effect. One study showed that by taking two classes per week for 8 weeks 78% of postpartum women improved their mental health (3). You know that the asanas will help you weave together your body, breath, and awareness. Here are some more benefits.

Benefits to Your Physical body:

  • Strengthen and tone the limbs
  • Strengthen and tone your core
  • Strengthen and tone your spinal muscles.
  • Relieve back pain and fatigue from breast feeding or even holding the baby 

 

Benefits to Physiological Body:

  • Improved digestion
  • Improved sleep
  • Pelvic and abdominal toning
  • Relief from urinary incontinence

 

Benefits to Mind:

  • Hormonal balance
  • Brain chemistry adjustment
  • Confidence and feelings of accomplishment
  • Mental peace and quietude
  • Less identification with social media and its images
  • Sense of authentic community and connection with others

Life is for enjoyment and learning. So enjoy your family life, and remember to sign up for yoga classes. Women’s Essentials is offered twice per week: Tuesday, in person from 7:30 to 8:45 pm; and Thursdays online (virtual, zoom) from 9:30 to 10:45 am. You can sign up for class by logging into our Wellness living Portal

WOMEN'S ESSENTIALS

SCHEDULE
  • Tuesday at 7:30 to 8:45 pm in person
  • Thursdays at 9:30 to 10:45 am online (virtual, zoom)