We live in a society where majority of us live in isolated family units. Some of us may be privileged enough to live just a short few minutes drive from close family members but unfortunately, the rest of us are not only a few hours drive but even flights away from parents or siblings. This isolated family unit lifestyle can have a very negative impact specifically to new mothers. During the first few days and months of a baby’s life, new mothers are faced with caring for a child as well as healing from childbirth. For those who have had children or been around someone who has, you know for a fact that caring for a new child and healing from the birth of a child is not an easy task. This means that any help is warranted during this critical time from family and friends. But as mentioned previously, not all of us have this luxury of getting help from family members whether it be distance being a barrier or even the inability to take extended days of work for financial reasons. This may lead to a lack of social support posing a risk factor for postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is defined as a form of depression that can start at any time during the first year of a child’s birth (1). It consists of a change in mood that affects the way an individual sees themselves and how they interact with the people around them (1). Lack of social support is one of the numerous risk factors associated with postpartum depression. These other risk factors include a previous history of depression, negative attitude towards a recent pregnancy, risky pregnancy, mismatch between the expectation of a mother and actual pregnancy event, a young age during pregnancy, sleep status, smoking, education, low income, and nutritional status (2).
As a new mother, I had a much less severe version of postpartum depression known as baby blues. The baby blues usually last for no more than 14 days with symptoms lasting for a few minutes to several hours of the day (3). I remember feeling sad, restless, impatient and incompetent as a mother just a day after having my child. And yes, you do wonder how is this happening when something so joyous was just granted to you which makes you feel that maybe you are being ungrateful. But no, this is not you being ungrateful it is a very valid emotion especially during such a critical time where your body has gone through so much while also trying to take care of a newborn which can be challenging.
One way as Muslims that we can try to cope with a difficult situation such as this is by getting closer to Allah (God) through prayer. However, this is not possible during the first few weeks postpartum as a woman bleeds for about 6 weeks whereby she is exempted from performing salat (prayer) and fasting, just as during menstrual bleeding (4). This is not only because they are in a state of impurity but also due to the fact that they are experiencing pain and feeling weak (4). By exempting us from prayer and fast, Allah wishes to reduce the burden of worship on us during this time (4). So, although there may be some limitations in what acts of worship we can engage in there are other spiritual acts we can do during this time. One alternative acts of worship dhikr (remembering Allah) which not only increases your ranking with Allah but also brings you closer to Allah (5). Other acts of worship consist of giving charity, listening to beneficial lectures, making dua, visiting the sick etc. (5).
Asides from doing acts of worship, there are other beneficial things one can do to help deal with symptoms of postpartum depression and baby blues. These include (6):
1. Exercise- In the first few weeks this could be as simple as walking 10 minutes daily. By doing so you are releasing the feel good chemicals in your body known as endorphins.
2. Eating Healthy- Eating nutrient dense food is not only good for your body it also makes you feel good.
3. Taking time out for yourself- Seek out help or take up a trusted family member’s offer to look after your child so you can do what you like such as going to the movies, a walk or take a nap. This will allow you to feel more energized as you recharge yourself.
4. Avoiding isolation- Simply talking to a close friend or family about your feelings can make a shift in your mood. Consider going to a mom’s support group in your community, you will be surprised to hear that others may be going through similar issues. You may also get the opportunity to learn some helpful parenting tips.
5. Breastfeeding- Studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum depression as it increases the feel good hormone known as Oxycontin.
6. Getting rest- Sleep when the baby sleeps. You may feel annoyed of hearing this so often but studies have consistently proven that mothers who sleep less, particularly 4 hours of sleep, have an increased risk of experiencing depressive symptoms.
These suggestions can be very beneficial when practiced regularly. However, if you feel that your symptoms are severe and continue to last for more than 2 weeks don’t be afraid to seek professional help or even simply mentioning it to your healthcare provider. They can point you in the right direction and get you the help you need so that you are your most optimal self. Furthermore, for family and friends who are around new mothers or soon to be expecting mothers, try to be as supportive as possible. I, myself, felt that I was an incompetent mother if I ever asked for help, so I would overburden myself or get frustrated when I was unable to do something. Thankfully, my family was attentive and did not wait for me to ask but offered to help. This allowed me to feel less burdened and also gave me some time to myself. Nonetheless, a simple message to all mothers, there is no such thing as a perfect mother. You are doing your best and that’s what matters most.
Written by: Raya Haddas