Postpartum Depression – It’s Real, and Someone You Know Probably Went Through It

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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month – and the one mental health issue that (I feel) has only recently been talked about more, monitored better(ish), and treated is Postpartum Depression.

My goal here at Fit Mom Strong Mom is to bring education, awareness, and support to other moms though my education and experience as a personal trainer…and by sharing other moms’ stories so that you know you are NOT alone.

In this post, four moms share their experiences with PPD – how they recognized it, worked through it, and overcame it.

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“Having a baby changed my life! It made life so much more amazing and happy and full of more love than one could dream of…and yet so much more difficult and sadder than I had ever expected. I knew something was up when I just couldn’t kick the “baby-blues” after the first 2 weeks, not just blue, but sad, but in a way that I was desperate for, something – something I wasn’t sure I even knew what I felt but it sorta felt so heavy and so empty at the same time.   And when I couldn’t bear to put her down, not because she was so cute and cuddly or that she ate every 45 minutes (Every. 45. minutes.), I thought I was doomed for loneliness.  I couldn’t put her down because I was overcome with terror. Terror that something so horribly unspeakable could happen in the .002 seconds it took me to simply change my shirt. I’m not talking her just rolling off the bed, I’m talking about her rolling off onto something that would impale her or she’d land in a way that would break her and an awful image of said brokenness would pop into my head. I knew it was ridiculous but these thoughts just came.

At my 6 week appointment I told my doctor a very, very minor version of what actually went on in my head (it was embarrassing but I also thought all moms had mommy-worry). She sent me to see someone about it. He was typically a drug counselor and I didn’t really get a comforting feeling from him or even felt that he “got it.”  I left after 2 months with the diagnosis of postpartum depression and Seasonal affective disorder (along with OCD/anxiety but I knew that already!). He said to take vacation during winter for the S.A.D and to “think positive thoughts” about the PPD.
Guess what?  It didn’t help. And on our next vacation to the coast (we did stick to the vacation plans!) I was still not a happy person and I could have ruined a great time..or maybe I did. That vacation was one year postpartum and about 1.5 years postpartum I knew something was wrong. It (or I) was affecting our marriage too. Another counselor later, I began to realize there were still things “wrong with me” -hormonal things wrong. My husband began to understand, just as I was beginning to understand, that I wasn’t better and I was a hard person because of the PPD. There were other things in our life affecting my anxiety and PPD and we needed to figure it out and get though it…or else.   So after working on being more of a team, understanding it was something that had to be fixed and I had to understand myself that I had to keep seeing the therapist as an outlet, for over 2 years. I never took meds, I nursed for 2 years and I really didn’t want to compromise that. Talking about it and being open with my husband and myself really helped work though it until my mind and hormones regulated a while after I stopped nursing.
After having the experience we did with PPD I knew it was possible with baby #2. Surprise, surprise, I got it again. This time it was correctly labeled as PP Anxiety. The sadness wasn’t there this time but the horrible possibilities were. Being aware of it helped. Talking openly with my husband helped (communication is not a strong-suit for most men but we had to pull that one out to be better!). Talking with friends helped.  I hope this helps moms realize they’re normal but also getting help is important. I thought I was “normal” but it was seriously affecting my relationships with myself and my husband, and friends. It’s common, but it sill needs to be addressed to move on, living sad or anxious doesn’t have to be your norm even if you’re still normal!”
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“Postpartum depression was something that wasn’t even on my radar when I had my daughter in 2012. I hadn’t heard anyone in my family suffer from it, and very few of my friends had children. I feel incredible guilt looking back… I truly did and do love my Charlie-girl… I just honestly wasn’t myself. My biggest symptom, which I tried to cover up, was just not feeling connected. It’s hard to explain, especially to people that have never had it, but I didn’t cry when she was born, I didn’t get overwhelmed with emotion, I was just kind of numb. In the weeks that passed after I didn’t eat much, didn’t seem to need sleep and was more like a zombie going through the motions. She was colicky, but even that didn’t phase me. I would pace for 5-6 hours at night while she cried at me without shedding a tear myself, even though when my mom first saw how she was at night, she cried. I took the pictures and made the social media posts like my friends did, but I know now how unnatural that felt to me. I hated nursing and stopped a few weeks in, I pretty much rejected all of the normal bonding someone does with their infant. I feel like I had no personality and wasn’t myself, I wasn’t upset to leave her, didn’t mind people holding her, just a shell of my former self getting through the days, waiting for the mail to come and waiting for Ellen to be on T.V.

 

I didn’t know I was suffering at the time, but my mom did, and looking back I can see it too. My husband at the time left for weekends to visit friends when she was weeks old, went golfing instead of coming straight home to us, and eight weeks after she was born I think my mom decided to intervene. She had been doing CrossFit and told me I should give it a try. My former competitive self, a college athlete, liked the idea of getting back into shape. I had a difficult pregnancy and hadn’t worked out the entire time. She paid for my “on-the-ramp” classes and came over to babysit so I could go to the gym. I hated it at first, I am not going to lie, I was sore, I was tired, and I basically couldn’t do anything. But what I can say is that I started to feel more like myself then I had in a long time. I started to see strong women around me and knew I wanted my daughter to look at me and be inspired. Fast-forward to now, 5 years later…. I am divorced and remarried, happier than I have ever been, pregnant again, and even after the stillbirth of my son this past Fall, I feel like I am me. In the past years I focused my attention on training, eating well, and being a good mother and wife. Taking care of myself, before my family, is what makes me a good mother and wife. If I am not well, confident, and healthy, I am first of all not a role model for my daughter, and secondly, won’t be around long enough to see her get married and have children. I want to be there like my mom was for me.”
-Ashley of Mom as Rx
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“I always thought I had a hard first baby.  It took him 5 months to successfully sleep through the night and he never looked back.  Then I had my second son last fall.  He was a different kind of hard.  Not like, “Oh it’s your second kid hard.”  He was impossible.  Screamed all the time, never slept except on us, and is still not sleeping much these days. Those first few months are a blur, and all the while, I had the overwhelming feeling of being unable to cope.  Even days when he was easy, I would feel down and filled with grief.  I talked to many friends and my OB about my feelings and they all suggested I take medicine to just take the edge off of what I was feeling, but I fought it for a long time.  I think as a fitness professional and a self-proclaimed pillar of health, I wanted to be able to just get over it myself.  I thought by talking to a counselor, using essential oils and praying, I would feel better.  It really wasn’t until I realized I didn’t have a good reason to not take medication, that I sought help.   I was worried for the lives of my children and my family.  I didn’t want to live.  I didn’t care about my kids, but I recognized that those were wrong feelings and not a true indication of how I felt deep down.  

I’m currently 7 months postpartum with my second child and still taking medicine.  I don’t always feel 100% back to myself, but this time period also brought out other issues from my past that I hadn’t dealt with.  Overall, I feel better and able to function on a day to day basis.  I’m not as depressed as I felt, and I’m hoping this passes as my son grows.”

-Kelli of My Fit Finish

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After years of trying to conceive, battling infertility, struggling with the unexplained multiple pregnancy loss – seeing another positive pregnancy test wasn’t a completely exhilarating experience. It was scary. I was anxious. I felt a fear of every possible unknown available. Finally seeing a heartbeat that was strong and above 150 the first several OB appointments was easing my mind tremendously. By 18 weeks and time for the gender reveal I still held on to a tiny shred of fear but for the most part I was the ever growing, not so much glowing VERY happy pregnant woman. ( Let’s take time for a bit of honestly- pregnancy was very hard on me and I physically was exhausted and HUGE ) The life inside of me however brought me more joy than I can ever put into words.

Fast forward to birth and bringing our sweet babe home. All that joy was quickly dwindling and while I was so thankful and grateful for this beautiful precious miracle- something inside me felt dark. I became overwhelmed, exhausted, sleep deprived, and just angry with myself for all the things that I felt weren’t going right. I secluded myself to the point where the only time I left the house was to visit Target and Starbucks and generally late at night. “What if someone sees me?” “Will they know that I hate myself?” “Can they tell that I wish I could just die right now?”

It started becoming a daily struggle just to pray and put two feet in front of each other. I was scared to reach out to anyone because in my head, it was just me, I was crazy, and someone would take my sweet baby away from me.

At about 5 month PP I was in the bathroom and holding a razor blade. I wanted to slice straight up to my elbows and just bleed out right there on my bathroom floor, next to the cute whale bathtub. I don’t remember what happened next other than praying God please help me. The next day I told my husband who had no clue what was going on and I reached out to a sweet friend for help. At my doctor visits the following day I was diagnosed with Post Partum Depression – I wasn’t depressed, I didn’t want to harm my child, I was still depressed and had NO IDEA. I had my IUD removed and am currently managing with doctors care, daily sweat sessions, proper nutrition, and lots of sheltering trees.

Today my son looked at me while typing this and said “mama.” The tears are flowing and I am so thankful and grateful for this life and the opportunity to be a fit, strong, mama. If you are feeling a little off and maybe dark – Please, Please, Please reach out to someone!

-Jessica of jessicalazer.com

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Pregnancy Related Depression and Anxiety with expert, Sarah Strong, LMSW

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding Pregnancy Related Depression and Anxiety (I will refer to it as PRD for ease). PRD is the most common complication of pregnancy and is estimated to effect 1 in 5 women. Although usually referred to as “postpartum depression” mental health professionals recognize a range of pregnancy related mood disorders, with depression and anxiety being the most common. The symptoms may happen during pregnancy or during the postpartum period.
Below are some common statements I hear from my clients as a mental health therapists and my corresponding responses.
Myth: “It’s just the Baby Blues.”
Fact: Baby Blues do effect up to 80% of new moms. With crashing hormones, little sleep, and major life changes we can expect that moms will take a couple of weeks to adjust  (complete adjustment obviously takes much longer, because being a mom is hard!), but if you continue to cry frequently, have little joy with your new baby, have no appetite, feel guilt or hopelessness, have trouble sleeping (that isn’t due to baby waking you up)AFTER 2 WEEKS, it is time to talk to a health care professional.
For pregnancy related anxiety, you will look for symptoms such as constant worry, thinking something bad will happen, inability to sit still, racing thoughts and change in appetite or sleep. Again, consider 2 weeks your gauge here.
*If at any point, even in the first two weeks, you want to harm your baby seek professional support immediately.*
 
Myth; “PRD happens right away. If I feel depressed 6 months postpartum, that’s different.”
 Fact: PRD can happen any time during pregnancy all the way to your baby’s first birthday. If any of these symptoms pop up during this time it is worth being screened.
Myth: “I have a great support network, my baby is healthy, my labor and delivery went great, so I can’t be depressed.” 
Fact: There are risk factors that increase the likelihood that a woman will experience PRD (Traumatic labor and delivery, baby spends time in the NICU, history of depression or anxiety,  poverty, stress, etc.) every woman has some risk of developing PRD. No matter how well your prepare or how supported you are, you can’t control the intense hormone changes related to pregnancy. Your best bet is to be prepared- put the signs and symptoms on your fridge before you ever give birth. Make sure your partner knows he/she can come to you if they are worried.
 
Myth: “I don’t have time to worry about this. I need to take care of my baby.”
Fact: Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your baby. PRD doesn’t just have an impact on Mom, but on the whole family system. Your ability to smile, make eye contact and engage with your baby as well as have the energy to enjoy them and take them out into the world are essential to their development. It isn’t selfish to take a break and seek out resources for yourself, that’s all part of being the mom your baby needs.
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If reading the above myths helped you recognize that you may be struggling with PRD, consider the following approaches to reducing symptoms:
  • Get out of the house and get some sunshine and fresh air! Open the curtains and windows, let light into your home. We all know how easy it is to stay inside all day. Even if you have physical limitations that make it hard to get out, do what you can to being the outdoors inside. Vitamin D and sunshine are truly healing!
  • Find a group. This is important- not any “moms group” will do. If you find yourself spending time with moms who make you feel inferior/alone/ anything bad at all- this does not count. If these are your friends still make time to socialize, but please find a postpartum support group or group connected to a hospital or birthing center where other women are coming with their own doubts and worries.  Some online resources here: http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/tools-for-mom/
  • Eat healthy and move your body if you can.
  • Accept support when it is offered.
  • Be honest with your friends when they ask if you are OK.
  • Consider medication. Another common myth is that there are no approved antidepressants or anti anxiety medications for breastfeeding moms.  There are! Reach out to your OB or midwife and if they aren’t helpful find a psychiatrist. Remember, an OB/Midwife can write a prescription, but a psychiatrist is truly the expert when it comes to these medications.
I encourage you to familiarize yourself with postpartum.net, which includes signs and symptoms of PRD as well as resources for family members.  Have these conversations with your partners and support people before the symptoms come up so that they can keep an eye out for any changes and you can get help right away. Remember: you are not alone. You are an awesome mom, you are doing a great job and your baby is lucky to be yours.
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I would like to thank Nicci, Ashley, Kelli, and Jessica for sharing their personal stories and Sarah for her expert information on how to recognize PPD and the steps.

Every pregnancy is different – it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs of PPD prior to pregnancy, and to make sure your partner and friends/family are aware of the symptoms as well, so should you need help, someone can recognize the signs and get you the help you need. NO SHAME – NO EMBARRASSMENT.

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Hurts So Good: Foam Rolling 101

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Fit Running Mom Blogger, Strong Momma Christina

When I first learned about foam rolling about 10 years ago, I initially thought it was odd and useless. I was working as a personal trainer at a large health club and I remember one of the master trainers raving about it so I figured I would give it a shot. I laid on the long peace of foam, rolled vigorously back and forth for like 5 seconds and insisted it had no benefit. Luckily for me and my future client, that master trainer caught me with my terrible foam rolling technique and took some time to show me how to properly use it. And let me tell you, it changed my life! Since then, foam rolling has not only become a regular part of my training regimen (just as important to me as a training run or lifting session) but also a staple in our training programs for all of our athletes. Foam rolling and other forms of SMR (self miofascial release), if done properly, have several great benefits which I will discuss below. However, people often neglect rolling because they feel as if they have no time or do not see immediate benefits from it. So I will also cover proper technique, key areas to roll and tips for incorporating rolling into your training routine.

Benefits of Rolling
First, let’s discuss why we roll. Our active lifestyle, from running to lifting weights, causes our muscles to tighten up. These tight areas, or “trigger points,” can eventually lead to weak areas which, if neglected, can potentially lead to injury. Loosening up tight tissue not only alleviates discomfort, but it can also help you become a more efficient athlete with increased range of motion, better form and improved running and economy. Waiting until you feel significant tightness and pain, however is not the solution and often where people go wrong when it comes to SMR. Foam rolling is not just for rehabilitation, rather it is a great tool for preventing muscles from getting too tight, which of course will aid in recovery, prevent soreness and, of course, prevent injury.

When to Roll
As I stated above, don’t just wait until you’re sore to roll. Use roam rolling as a preventative tool as a part of your regular training routine to see the most benefit. At our gym, we have our athletes roll out before each training session, and even during and after if necessary. I myself, as a runner and weight lifter, typically start each of my training sessions off with several minutes of foam rolling focusing on key areas. So to answer the question of “when should you foam roll?” here are a couple of key things to remember:

1. Rolling can essentially be done daily
2. Do not wait until you are sore, roll regularly
3.  Roll BEFORE training sessions as a part of your warm up to loosen up tight muscles
4. If you experience tightness during or after a workout, take a moment to roll that specific area
5. Rolling does not necessarily have to occur during training, it can be done first thing in the morning or even at night, just make time for it!

Types of Rollers
At our facility, we have several types of tools including regular long rollers, half rollers, “The Stick,” and lacrosse balls for our athletes’ SMR needs. I typically suggest to people to first invest in a long roller that can be purchased anywhere from online to running stores and even Target or Marshalls. You do not have to break the bank buying the latest and greatest products in SMR. A simple long piece of foam will serve as a great tool to loosen up those tight muscles. Here is a break down of what we use and for what:

1. Long Roller (AeroMat Elite High Density Foam Roller, 6″ x 36″ Firm): Can be used for most areas, especially larger muscle groups like quads, glutes and adductors. Long rollers are also great for the back, lats and of course those pesky IT Bands.
2. Half Roller (AeroMat Elite High Density Foam Roller 6″x11): Although not necessary if you have the long roller, half rollers can be a little more user friendly for hamstrings and calf muscles.
3. “The Stick” (The Stick Travel Stick, 17-Inch G-1750): Is great for zeroing in on tight calf and soleus muscles as well as peroneals. If you do a good amount of traveling, The Stick is a great investment because of it’s size, it can be a great SMR tool for on the go.
4. Lacrosse Ball (Lacrosse Balls – NCAA NFHS Certified – Purple): Yes, you can purchase a fancy rolling ball from a running store, but if you can get your hands on a lacrosse ball, there are several areas you can roll with this simple tool. The neck and shoulder area, certain regions of the hips and the rotator cuff are all areas that a hard lacrosse ball can help loosen up.
5. Others: If you head into a running store or search around online, you can be overwhelmed with the practically endless types of SMR tools available as well as the claims that each product is “the best in the industry.” My advice when it comes to starting off with foam rolling (and actually when you start off with anything) is to keep it simple and fairly inexpensive. Invest in one good roller that seems to suit your needs and commit to using it before breaking the bank on all the products on the shelves.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Foam Roller
I’ve discussed the importance of rolling, when to roll and of course what to use. Now I will cover some key things to remember as you roll in order to get the most out of it. Like I said above, my first experience with foam rolling was less than impressive, and this was of course I was doing it all wrong. Many times, I will see people lay on a roller, rapidly roll back and forth for a handful of seconds (pretty much exactly how it went down the first time I tried it), hop up and proceed with their workout or leave the gym thinking they just successfully broke up all that tight tissue. Sure they have seen pictures in magazines or other people at the gym foam roll the same way, so they think they are doing in right. And maybe they did get something out of it that way (mostly likely a placebo effect though). In order to feel the full benefits from SMR, one must be a little more methodical with their rolling. So here are a key things to consider next time you grab your roller, stick or ball:

1. Start with larger muscle groups like the quads, glutes and hamstrings, then work your way into the smaller ones.
2. Find the “trigger points,” or areas of tightness and discomfort, and focus on breaking up those areas the most. If you feel nothing over a certain muscles, don’t spend too much time there.
3. Roll directly over the tightest spots, as it becomes less and less tense, begin rolling further away from that area to cover more ground and loosen up more tissue surrounding it.
4. Take slow deep breaths, letting out long slow exhales as you roll over those extra tight spots that cause you discomfort while rolling.
5. Spend on average about 20-30 seconds per area, longer for the tighter areas. This really should take only about 10 minutes of your time, so no excuses on skipping out on it!

What to Roll
Here are the key areas we focus on rolling with our athletes:

glutes

Glutes: Sit on top of foam roller. Rest ankle on top of thigh. Place same arm behind body. Lean toward the bent leg side and roll forward to back over glute.

it-band
IT Band: Lay sideways with outer thigh (IT Band) on top of roller. Place bottom forearm on grown beneath shoulder and top hand down for support. Cross top leg over bottom placing foot on ground. Roll body forward to back.

quads

Quads: Lay upper thighs on top of the roller with forearms rested on the floor for support. Roll from top to bottom of thighs and back up.

hamstrings

Hamstrings: Place foam roller underneath one leg. Use your arms to help hold your hips off the floor. Roll up and down over hamstrings.

adductor

Adductors: Place roller parallel to body. With forearms underneath shoulders for support, place inner thigh on top of the roller with knee bent. Roll from upper thigh down towards the knee and back up.

lower-back

Lower Back: Place foam roller underneath your low back. Place hands behind head to support neck. Lift hips off floor and roll up and down low back.

upper-back

Upper Back: Lay your shoulder blades on top of foam roller. Cross your arms across your chest. Lift your hips off floor. Roll foam roller up and down your upper back.

lats

Lats: Place roller underneath upper lats, roll up and down along lats. Then, laying on roller, roll chest front to back.

calf
Calves: Place The Stick on top of the calf muscle below knee, roll Stick down and up the calf.

peroneals

Peroneals: Place The Stick on outside of the lower leg, above ankle. Roll Stick up and down the lateral leg.