Category Archives: Postnatal Depression

The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 3

Whether you are suffering from motherhood stress, depression or burnout, the following steps may help:

  • If you’re breastfeeding, keep doing it! Don’t let anyone convince you that you’ll feel better if you wean. Breastfeeding hormones have a protective effect against stress and depression. Breastfeeding moms also get more rest (after the first two weeks). Most importantly, breastfeeding your baby keeps his emotional tank full and protects him against harmful effects. Studies proved that the breastfed babies of depressed moms had normal EEG’s due to the fact that their mothers held and touched them more.
  • If you have breastfeeding problems, get professional help. Sore nipples can cause all the symptoms of depression, so treat it promptly with the help of an IBCLC.
  • Get some exercise. Research has shown that exercise is JUST as effective in treating postpartum depression as the antidepressant Zoloft (which, by the way, is considered the safest medication to use during breastfeeding). The amazing fact about this research (for lazy old me, anyway), is that you don’t have to run a marathon every week. You only need twenty minutes of brisk walking two to three times per week! A few moms I know used to meet in the park three times per week with their babies in prams, taking care of their social needs as well. By the way, researchers found that exercise is better at preventing relapses than medication.
  • Make sure you are eating well. Omega 3 oil, zinc and B-vitamins have all been proven to lessen stress and depression. Kendall-Tackett recommends taking 45 grams of carbs on its own once a day. You need to wait at least an hour before having protein or fat.
  • Make time to relax. Let Dad take Baby for a walk while you have a long, luxurious bath or a chat with a friend. Treat yourself to a massage and assuage your guilt with the fact that you’re saving lots of money breastfeeding.
  • Prevent mental boredom by reading interesting books and articles while you are breastfeeding.
  • Find support. Connect or reconnect with the people you love that can fill your emotional tank while you fill your baby’s.
  • Stay away from negative people in your life and watch your own self-talk.
  • Cultivate gratitude.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Find a creative outlet.
  • Get more sleep. Nap when the baby naps, go to bed earlier (babies sleep best before midnight) and let the baby sleep where he lets you get the most rest.
  • Get a thorough check-up to rule out conditions like anaemia and hypothyroidism.
  • Natural remedies like Stressless Tonic (by Natura), Rescue Remedy and Valerian can improve mild depression.
  • For extreme depression, make a visit with your GP or gynaecologist and GET HELP. Anti-depressants and therapy have both been proven very effective. Most antidepressants are compatible with breastfeeding. You can measure your level of depression by completing the Edinburgh Scale for Postpartum Depression. See:
  • Some useful books are: The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, When your Blessings Don’t Count by Linda Lewis, and Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields.
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Articles, Motherhood, Postnatal Depression


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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 2

In her wonderful book, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett discusses three hidden emotional states connected to motherhood: stress, depression and burn-out. These conditions overlap, but they are not exactly the same. It is important to realise that stress is caused by any change – happy or unhappy. Research has shown that the birth of a baby – even though it is such a miraculous, joyous occasion – is one of the most stressful life events. It’s important that we are aware of this and take steps to minimise our stress levels.

Postnatal depression is a more serious condition. Some risk factors are sleep-deprivation, a history of depression, lack of support or loneliness, financial problems, a traumatic birth, a conflicted relationship with your own mother or partner, and a history of abuse (physical, emotional and/or verbal). Another significant risk factor is perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

Long-term stress and depression cause psychological as well as biological problems. Increased cortisol production leads to many negative effects, like depressing the immune system and causing inflammation and pain. It places us at higher risk of cardio-vascular disease and actually atrophies the hippocampus, affecting memory and learning. Ever wondered why your memory is so poor when you are stressed? Kendall-Tackett warns that we need to realise that stress can be fatal. We need to take care of ourselves, for the sake of our babies, our partners and ourselves.

It’s a sad fact that postnatal depression also affects our babies. Research has found that depressed moms tend to interact with their kids in one of two styles, either avoidant or angry-intrusive. In both cases, kids produce excessive stress hormones themselves, leading to long-term neurological changes and, in turn, to a higher vulnerability to depression. But PLEASE don’t feel guilty if you are depressed. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge and get the support you need to get you out of that deep, dark abyss. I’ll make some suggestions in my next post.

Burnout may not be as acute a crisis as depression, but it can certainly make your life one of quiet desperation. Kendall-Tackett describes it as an existential crisis. You begin to doubt the reason for your existence. You wonder if anything you do makes a difference. You end up dragging yourself through each day and you withdraw from those around you, even your children. This becomes a vicious cycle. Women find meaning in relationships. When they cut themselves off from the people they love, life becomes increasingly bleak. Remember that it is not couldn’t-care-less moms who burn out. It is the ultra-committed moms. As William Sears puts it: you have to be on fire in order to burn out.

But how do you rekindle the flame? How do you deal with these negative feelings of motherhood in order to be the best and happiest mom possible? Any suggestions?


Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Articles, books, Postnatal Depression


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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 1

A few years ago, I read a wonderful book by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a psychological researcher and IBCLC. The title of this book is The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood. You can order it from

Soon after finishing it, I started a moms’ group in my house. Our first topic was ‘Motherhood Stress’ and I was overwhelmed by the response to this discussion. The women who attended were all so honest and open – even though they did not know each other all that well. I was just as surprised by the deep emotional response these topics stirred within me. I realised that I was pretty burned out myself and I subsequently took steps to feel better. This is a topic close to my heart and I’m hoping some of you will be interested in discussing and sharing here.

Flip through the pages of any mothering magazine and you’ll know what I mean: Our culture paints an unrealistic picture of motherhood. We see slim and impeccably dressed moms pushing designer prams – smiling contentedly, just like their babies. These moms always cope – they are always in control. Their designer suits never bear spit-up milk or pureed butternut stains; their babies never have snotty noses or grumpy days or growth spurts. They seem to have it all: money, success, poise, fulfilment and self-actualization.

But our culture also paints another picture – another ideal – one that is probably just as inaccurate. In this picture there are no smiling babies. They are all at day-care, their moms happily engrossed in their fulfilling careers. Stay-at-home moms are considered dull and uninteresting. Kids are considered little ‘monsters’ who will suck you dry if you don’t get away for some me-time at every possible opportunity. The sooner you ‘teach’ them independence, the sooner you can ‘get back your life’.

Of course, the reality is much more complex and multi-layered. Early motherhood was an incredibly hard and lonely time for me, even though it was also one of the best times of my life – a time that I remember with great fondness and nostalgia. I think we should break the silence about what motherhood is really like. We should talk frankly about all those secret feelings of motherhood – the ones we’re too scared to share because others might think we don’t love our kids or aren’t worthy of raising them. Few mothers seem willing to talk about these difficult feelings, but I think any mother of young children should know that she is not the only one struggling with stress, depression or burnout.

Having been both a stay-at-home and a working mother myself, I find it incredibly sad that women criticise instead of support each other. I can honestly tell you that both lifestyles are stressful and taxing. If you choose to stay at home, you are economically disempowered – even within your own household. You are often isolated and starved for adult company. You may feel that you don’t get enough mental stimulation and that you have very little sense of accomplishment – of completing tasks. After all, you change a nappy now, but in two hours time you’ll change another …

When you work outside the home – whether through choice or necessity – you are constantly pressed for time. You always seem to be torn: when you are at work, you feel guilty about your children. When you are with them, you worry about the work that still needs to be done. To add insult to injury, research shows that working women still bear the brunt of responsibilities for childcare and housework.

The point I’m making is that motherhood – by its very definition – is a guilt-ridden role. The sooner we learn to let go of guilt, the better. The sooner we understand that self-care is not selfish, the less stressed we’ll be. And I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: if Mama ain’t happy, nobody ain’t happy!

Over the next few days, I’ll write a few posts about motherhood stress. What causes it? When is it serious? What can you do to feel better? In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What aspects of motherhood is going really well for you? What isn’t? Which motherhood feelings did you not expect and do you feel you should keep hidden?


Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Articles, Postnatal Depression


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