Maintaining Mental Health In The Postpartum Period

Photo: Jessica Austin

With the cloudy season upon us here in Vancouver, affecting many of our moods,  I feel it is an appropriate time to talk about mental health in the postpartum period.

While some cultures don’t even have a word for postpartum depression because it simply is not common, we frequently hear about it our industrialized world.

In more community-based cultures, women have support from their families and neighbours to help make sure they are well-rested, well-fed and allowed time to adjust to life with a newborn.

One of my favourite articles, How Other Cultures Deal With Postpartum Depression, outlines the keys to success used in cultures where postpartum depression is essentially non-existent:

  • Care from female relatives
  • Special care to the mother in honour of the distinct postpartum period
  • Social seclusion & rest
  • Functional assistance
  • Social recognition of  the woman as a new mother

What are some ways you may be able to  apply the methods used by other cultures to minimize your risk of postpartum depression in our western, Vancouver culture?

Care from older female relatives:

In our modern culture, we often either do not live near our families, or are so accustomed to independence that it is difficult to share such an intimate time with our female relatives. In addition, it can be difficult for your support people to make time in their hectic city lifestyles to provide you with enough support. If this is the case for you, you may want to consider arranging for postpartum doula care as a way to mimic traditional care from female relatives.

Special care in honour of the distinct postpartum period: 

Are there ways you may be able to treat yourself as a way of honouring this postpartum period? Some cultures practice special bathing or other personal care rituals. How you create your own ritual could vary from taking aromatherapy baths while your partner or a support person takes care of your baby for half an hour, to having an in-home massage therapist come to visit you. Acubalance Wellness Center also offers in-home postpartum treatments.

Social seclusion and rest:

When people come over, it should be to help you, not for you to entertain them. The early postpartum period is a time for you to get to know your new family and to rest as much as possible.

Functional assistance:

Household chores, care of older children, grocery shopping and meal preparation are all examples of functional help you will benefit from as a new mother. You may want to make a plan for arranging this type of assistance prenatally, either from a postpartum doula or from your friends and family members.

Often, your friends and family will need a little guidance for how to provide you with this kind of support. I recommend printing off After The Birth: What A Family Needs and giving it to the people you hope to have support from in the postpartum period. Another way to arrange some functional assistance is to have a MealTrain organized.

Social recognition of the woman as a new mother:

It might be nice to consider your own version of a “stepping-out ritual” as described in the Other Cultures article mentioned above… but not until you have had plenty of time to stay home, rest, and enjoy your baby, and to take advantage of the tips mentioned above. One of the regular members of my free Vancouver prenatal group chose to have a small potluck with close friends at about 3 months after the birth of her baby as a celebration of becoming a mother and welcoming her new baby to the world.

Other ways to reduce your risk of postpartum depression in Vancouver:

Support Groups:  

Research shows that support groups can be extremely effective for dealing with depression and maintaining positive mental health.  Here are some support groups in Vancouver:

Exercise, Meditation & Yoga:

Prenatal yoga instructor and former doula Lori Lucas recommends exercise and yoga/mindfulness in particular as being extremely beneficial physically, mentally and emotionally during the post partum period. There are several studies that support this!


Take advantage of counselling resources available in Vancouver if you feel like you could use professional support as you settle in to life with a new baby. If you would like to consult with a counsellor, you may want to look for one who focuses on women’s health in the prenatal and postpartum period, such as Well Woman Counselling in Vancouver. offers a directory of counsellors who list theselves as working with people with postpartum depression.

Placenta Encapsulation:

Many women are now choosing to have their placentas dehydrated and prepared in capsule form for consumption, in hopes of obtaining hormonal and nutritional benefit that may reduce the risk of postpartum depression.  Placenta Benefits Info has some good resources on the use of the placenta in the postpartum period.

Placenta encapsulation is something I offer as a service to my birth doula clients. Please send me an email if you are interested in more information:

Understanding the Difference between Postpartum Depression and Birth Trauma

Women who birth in environments where they feel safe and respected can and do have amazing births. However, those who give birth in a way where they felt unsupported or mistreated by their care providers or a violation of their human rights in childbirth can leave their births feeling traumatized. It is important not to confuse this trauma with what we typically think of in terms of postpartum depression.

There are support and advocacy groups in Vancouver for women who have had these kinds of experiences, and my own doula practice focuses partially on supporting birthing families whose previous births were traumatic in some way. If you are interested in the causes of this type of trauma, please see What Really Causes Birth Trauma?

Jessica Austin, Birth Doula: Childbirth Services in Vancouver

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  2 comments for “Maintaining Mental Health In The Postpartum Period

  1. Jillian Mark
    December 14, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I got your email about the broken link but it wasn’t. It worked well yesterday.
    Best and thanks for all your wonderful work.

    • December 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks Jillian! Strange, one of the readers emailed me and told me the link was broken. Glad it worked for you! Appreciate the comment :-)

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