8 Ways Black Moms Can Lower Their Risk of Postpartum Depression
Natalie Nicole Foster was excited about the birth of her first child. She was fully aware that a newborn would require mountains of baby gear, sleepless nights and a shift in priorities. She was ready. But there was one thing she wasn’t completely prepared for: postpartum depression. A week and a half after her son was born, an overwhelming depression and anxiety enveloped her. “I had feelings of not wanting to keep my son,” she shares. “I thought I would never get out of the darkness I was experiencing.” Fortunately, Foster was able to get the help she needed, and learned that she was far from alone in her struggle with postpartum depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), postpartum depression affects one in eight women. But women of color are even more at risk. One study found that Black moms experience symptoms of postpartum depression at a significantly higher rate, compared to their white counterparts. To that end, it’s important that Black expectant mothers take a proactive approach to prioritize their mental health and well-being during their pregnancy and the postpartum phase. Ready to take the reins and lower your risk of postpartum depression? Read on to learn more.
Black women are statistically at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression for a myriad of social reasons, says Jessica Diggs, LM, a licensed midwife and educator at LOOM, an online sexual and reproductive health resource for women, in Los Angeles. For starters, there’s a higher incidence of stress because of job or housing insecurity and the lived experience of racism. Moreover, systemic bias and disparities in care are real and prominent issues, adds Katie Ziskind, LMFT, a therapist and owner of Wisdom Within Counseling in Niantic, Connecticut. The fact is, Black women are more than three times likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Not surprisingly, there’s also a deep-rooted mistrust of the healthcare system among Black communities. Moreover, Diggs notes that there’s a cultural reluctance to seek mental health services because of the stigma and shame associated with it.
The statistics don’t lie, and postpartum depression is a very real possibility. The good news? Knowledge is power, and there are some steps you can take to lower your risk. Here’s what you can do.
1. Get quality care
Ideally, you’re receiving care from an ob-gyn or midwife who treats you respectfully and empowers you as a patient and parent-to-be. That said, if there are barriers to in-person care, you can try taking advantage of telehealth services, advises Rachel J. Dalthorp, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director at LifeStance Health in Moore, Oklahoma. Either way, keeping up with your prenatal and postnatal care is paramount to staying healthy physically and mentally—and a doctor may be able to spot any depression symptoms early on.
2. Know the signs and plan ahead
Being proactive about your mental health starts with educating yourself about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). According to the American Psychological Association, common signs of postpartum depression can range from mild to severe and include:
- Extreme sadness, depression or anxiety
- Mood swings
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Extreme changes to your appetite
- Feelings of intense anger and irritability, hopelessness and/or guilt and shame
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
If you have a history of depression or anxiety, know that you’re at an increased risk for experiencing these issues during or after pregnancy. Arrange to connect with a therapist throughout your pregnancy and in the first few weeks of life postpartum. Let your ob-gyn or midwife know this information ahead of time as well, so that they can monitor you too. Either way, if you’re experiencing any of the above signs of depression (or other troubling symptoms), don’t wait to reach out for help.
3. Find a support system
It’s best to have a support system in place before baby is born. You want to have people you can turn to for help with things that need to get done: Shopping for supplies, getting the car seat in place, setting up the nursery and preparing meals. Once you’re at home with baby, friends and loved ones can also assist with chores—or simply hold baby while you relax and rest. What’s more, your chosen people offer shoulders to cry on and listening ears when things get hard (and things might get hard for a while).
4. Break a sweat
Exercise during and after pregnancy has been shown to reduce postpartum depression and fatigue in new moms, as noted by a 2019 study. For the sake of your physical and mental health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week—so figure about 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week. New to working out? Keep it simple and go for a low-impact activity to get those feel-good endorphins flowing: Walking, swimming and practicing yoga are great options. (FYI, one study found that prenatal yoga can help ward off prenatal depression.)
Of course, after baby is born, you’ll want to wait to exercise until you get the green light from your doctor or midwife; take it slow and listen to your body. Even going for a stroll with your newborn can work wonders for the mind and body (and some fresh air and sunlight won’t hurt either).
5. Focus on nourishment
As a new mom, it may feel like you barely have time to shovel anything down your throat—let alone a nutritious meal. But food is fuel. It’s critical to your health and wellness that you stay hydrated and eat lean proteins, fruit, vegetables, fiber-rich carbs and healthy fats. And you’ll probably want to add salmon and other fish or seafood to your meal rotation. Early research has found that new moms with insufficient DHA-intake are more prone to postpartum depression. On the other hand, try to steer clear of processed snacks, fast food and sugary junk. You may be short on meal-prep time, but studies have linked these unhealthy items to higher levels of depression.
6. Stay connected online
Don’t have friends or family nearby? Dalthorp recommends connecting with other pregnant women in person or online for additional support. Virtual meetups are still trending in our Covid-wary world, so join a local Facebook parenting group or, better yet, find a like-minded group that convenes regularly on Zoom. In addition, check out a few sites and blogs created by and for Black moms, such as Brown Mamas, Mocha Moms and Foster’s blog, Mindfully Well Rooted. “It’s been a place for me to provide my own personal advice on how to prioritize mental wellness,” Foster says. “My ‘why’ always remains improving the mental health of Black women across the nation and eventually the world.”
7. Sleep when you can
Easier said than done, we get it. Your snooze schedule will be completely thrown for a loop by the arrival of a newborn, and you may struggle with unthinkable exhaustion—depressed or not. That said, early research has linked poor sleep quality to higher rates of postpartum depression, which is why it’s so important to get rest when you can. Have a friend come and watch baby for a bit while you put your head down, choose a nap over doing the dishes from time to time and ask your partner to do a regular evening bottle feeding, so you can get some consecutive hours of zzz’s.
8. Carve out time for yourself
As a new mom, you don’t have a lot of spare time—and in the few moments you do have between feedings and diaper changes, you may find yourself staring blankly at the walls. But carving out moments to do something relaxing or stimulating or creative is good for your mind and mental well-being.
Becoming a parent can be all-encompassing, but you don’t have to lose yourself in the process. And if you find that you no longer take interest in the things you once did, or that you don’t have the energy or patience to enjoy hobbies or activities, it may be time to reach out for help. Postpartum depression is common, and there’s no shame in seeking support.
About the experts:
Rachel J. Dalthorp, MD, is a psychiatrist and medical director at LifeStance Health in Moore, Oklahoma. She received her medical degree from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
Jessica Diggs, LM, is a licensed midwife in Los Angeles. She is also an educator at LOOM, an online sexual and reproductive health resource for women.
Katie Ziskind, LMFT, a licensed therapist and the owner of Wisdom Within Counseling in Niantic, Connecticut.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.